An illustrated, narrative, non-fiction book
For over ten thousand years, before a nation state and province enveloped their tiny nation,the Haida people fished, foraged, farmed and thrived on a rugged and fecund 138 island archipelago lying just to the south of Alaska, off the coast of British Columbia. They called it Haida Gwaii.
European explorers, who “discovered” and renamed the islands after a Euro-monarch who never set foot on the place (Queen Charlotte of Britain) were universally awed by its lush forests and majestic mountains rising directly out of an ocean which drops rapidly from its shoreline to 3,000 feet, into one of the most productive surviving fisheries on the planet. And, like most everyone who has visited the islands since, early explorers were also stunned by the art and architecture of Haida culture, which is today found in museums and art collections around the world.
Nicknamed “the Galapagos of the North” Haida Gwaii is blessed with a diversity of species unmatched in the northern hemisphere. Biologists call it an “evolutionary showcase” as there are more endemic and disjunct (widely separated) species of plants and animals there than anywhere else in the hemisphere. As a consequence the islands have become of great interest to ecologists and wildlife conservationists the world over, many of whom have joined forces with a people who regard themselves as blood relatives of the pine martin, the dusky shrew, saw-whet owl, hairy woodpecker and the world’s largest black bears that roam the hills and fish in the rivers of Haida Gwaii.
As western Canada was settled by Europeans, the pressure on natural resources spread with the growing population and its demand for fur, fish and lumber. Eventually extractive industries found their way off the mainland to discover dense stands of old growth cedar, spruce and hemlock in the temperate rainforests of the coastal islands. As they had on the mainland, resource corporations with government approval simply ignored native tribes and on Haida Gwaii commenced what has become one the Pacific coast’s most monstrous land rapes. Over the decades that Big Timber virtually occupied the islands, the Haida received a few logging jobs and a pittance of revenue from the harvest. But the net consequence of excessive logging was economic and cultural devastation for a proud and essentially wealthy “First Nation”.
After almost a century of non-stop exploitation and abuse, the Haida people said "enough," and like most first nations in western Canada they began to resist, in one way or another, the imperious aggression against their rights and resources. Few of their neighbors prevailed in the face of national racism, corrupt provincial governments, unsympathetic courts and rapacious industries. But the Haida were a notable exception, and their audacious, creative and surprisingly realistic four decade struggle for sovereignty andresource rights became a living object lesson for communities in the same situation the worldover.
By creatively using the courts, human blockades, public testimony and the media, the Haida gradually won the support of enough Canadian citizens, government officials and judges, to obtain the status they had struggled for generations to win. As a consequence of their petitions the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed aboriginal title to their land. The southern part of the archipelago is now a national park co-managed by the Haida Nation, logging has been severely reduced, a Haida generated land use policy has been signed with British Columbia, and The Queen Charlotte Islands have been officially renamed Haida Gwaii.
Here is the way Ian Gill, former President of EcoTrustCanada, describes and explains the Haida triumph:
“Determined to build asociety and economy that is a fitting match for the land, sky, waters and spirit world they were lucky enough to inherit, the Haida set out to articulate a newcode of human conduct for our planet. They also possess a genius for community that seems to have eluded modern, or at least Western, society.”
That wisdom, combined with a ferocious determination to defend a land and culture, eventually prevailed, and helped a rugged and resilient people stand fast against political and economic forces that had no interest in their health, wealth or future. Their story bears repeating, as it offers the entire world of aboriginal and native peoples a strategic playbook for obtaining tenure and sovereignty on their ancient and legitimate homelands.
With the funds raise, I will travel north to Haida Gwaii to research relevant archives, interview major players, work with a local photographer, write a draft of this book on location, and begin the long process of finding interpreters who can translate the Haida Gwaii Lesson into the written languages of other colonized and exploited peoples around the world. If the project does not cross its funding threshold, all contributions will be returned.