Thursday, January 15, 2009

Haida find positives in conservancy signings

There still seems to be a fair amount of suspicion of the process when it comes to the negotiations between the province and the Haida, but a recently negotiated settlement on nine new conservancies on Haida Gwaii are being hailed as a good starting point between the two parties.

The Haida who have not been impressed with successive provincial governments and the pace and tenor of negotiations, especially during the NDP government years with Mike Harcourt at the helm of the provincial government, a period of time that still seems to resonate on Haida Gwaii as a particularly bad period for progress between governments.

The conservancies signed provide for legal protection for 111,054 hectares of northwestern Graham Island, an agreement reached through constructive discussion between the Haida and the Ministry of Environment.

It remains to be seen if that spirit of cooperation will continue on as other issues come along to be worked on, in a front page headline article from Wednesday's Daily News, the background of the sometimes quite controversial discussions was outlined, providing a primer of sorts for those seeking more detail on the intricate web of First Nation negotiations in the province.

They agree to create nine conservancies and the cooperation bodes well for the future
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Pages one and two

A negotiated settlement between the Council of Haida Nation and the provincial government over nine new conservancies on Haida Gwaii could have far-reaching implications, according to CHN President Guujaaaw.

But one thing it does not do is bring a treaty between both entities any closer to fruition.

"The courts have been real consistent in their rulings saying 'go back and negotiate'," said Guujaaw.

"Basically, that is what we are doing, we are trying to settle up without the courts because the courts aren't going to be determining what is the best use of the land - we got to do that.
"They are not going to write a land use plane, we've got to do that and we'll do it with the best information that we have."

The process to reach the negotiated settlement is quite the turnaround from the process to get much of Southern Haida Gwaii recognized as the Gwaii Haanas Marine Conservancy Area.
That Gwaii Haanas process, which began in the 1980s, saw many protests from Haida Nation and then was met with opposition from then Skeena MP Andy Burton until then Prime Minister Jean Chretien labeled it 'protected by the federal government' in 2001.

This time, the nine new conservancies were negotiated with the provincial Ministry of Environment and were completed through discussion, which for Guujaaw is a positive sign.
The new conservancies take up a total of 111,054 hectares of additional legal protection.
But the areas have been designated by CHN for years as protected.

The lands, which are mostly located in the Northwestern part of Graham island, include: Daawuuxusda (70,293), Damaxyaa (822), Kamdis (1,896) Kunxalas (3,344). Nang Xaldangaas (6,897) K'uuna Gwaay (1,756), Scaay Taw Siiway K'adjuu (597), Tlall (16,214), and Yaguun Gandlaay (2,493).

However, Guujaaw is careful not to place extra emphasis on the creation of the nine conservancies than he places upon the results from the negotiation itself.

Guujaaw said for the Council of Haida Nation this step is part of what it is being asked to do by the courts, which the CHN respects.

"We have had trouble with every stripe of government that has been in power. The NDP were no better friend of ours when they were in power. In fact, I still look at (former B.C. Premier Mike) Harcourt as the biggest menace in this whole thing since it all started," said Guujaaw.
Guujaaw is still fuming about the way the NDP handled treaty negotiations in the 1990s, when he accused the NDP of trying to "liquidate all vacant Crown land to occupy it all."

"Every licence and treaty that was issued was exempt from any kind of treaty and so leaving everyone with nothing," said Guujaaw.

Then came the Dlegamuuk decision in 1997. That important Supreme Court of Canada decision was the most definitive decision made in regards to Aboriginal title.

The NDP government, under then Premier Glen Clark, argued that the colonial government extinguished all First Nations rights before B.C. became a part of Canada in 1871. The Gitxsan Nation and the Wet'suwet'en Nation argued that they held ownership and legal jurisdiction over 133 individual territories, a total of 58,000 square kilometers of northwestern British Columbia - an area larger than the province of Nova Scotia.

While Chief Justice Antonio Lamer did not rule on the land dispute, he did acknowledge Aboriginal title is different from land usage rights, as it acknowledges Indigenous ownership of the land and the right to use it in ways it had not been used traditionally. He also ruled it is different from common land ownership, in that it is a Constitutional communal right deeply linked to Indigenous culture. Land governed by Aboriginal title could only be sold to the federal government, not to private buyers. The ruling also made important statements about the legitimacy of Indigenous oral history.

For the Haida Nation, the key was that First Nations would have to prove how they used the land in the past and "with regard to particular practices, customs and traditions."

Guujaaw saw this as a continuation of the process from Delgamuuk by negotiating and explaining how the land was has been used since the Haida began living on Haida Gwaii.

"What happened way back when the Delgamuuk decision came in, the courts first ordered consultation, the province invented a process without any discussion and consultation. They (instead) invented a consultation process that you give the notice, let us say what we want, and then go ahead and do what they were going to do in the first place," Guujaaw said.

When the Haida decision came down in, the courts said the province had a duty to accommodate. Now it was the BC Liberals turn to scoff the responsibility and try to pay off the North Coast First Nations bands.

In 2003, the Ministry of Forests signed a deal with both Lax Kw'alaams and Metlakatla to address workable accommodation for forestry decisions of any potential infringement on their economic interests.

Guujaaw said the CHN is not interested in that and never has been. They want full control of the land on Haida Gwaii.

"The aboriginal title, that concept, is talking about title within Canada and it has some far-reaching implications but certainly it is not taking everybody and sending them packing when title is determined," he said.

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