A few of you have found and kindly alerted me to a three small typos in the Preface I sent out on Wednesday. Yes, the manuscript has been "edited" but only line-edited. The next step is proof reading, and that’s where typos, hopefully ALL typos will be caught and corrected.
So worry not .... and thanks for your attention to detail.
Your typo-challenged author,
This morning I sent a brilliantly edited manuscript (thank you Jennifer Sahn) of the book you supported to its publishers at Inkshares. It will now move on to proof, design and then to the printer, soon after which you will have your copy.
In the meantime, here’s a teaser: The Preface.
Why This Book and Why Now
I decided to write this book while researching it’s predecessor Conservation Refugees, an investigative history of the hundred year conflict between global conservation and native peoples. Quite frequently, in remote communities around the world, I would be asked by a shaman, elder or chief: “Do you know the Haida?”
I had heard of the Haida, and seen their remarkable art in museums. But that was about it. “Why do you ask?” I responded. “Because we want what they have,” was the general response. And by that it turned out they meant “aboriginal title,” a form of land tenure that gives indigenous occupants of a traditional homeland final say over who lives there, who is and is not a citizen of that land, and how and by whom resources will be extracted and used.
How did a small remote band of seafaring aboriginals who had lived for millennia on a remote archipelago in the north Pacific get all those things back from a British colony that had usurped them, one by one, in the eighteenth century?
This book is the answer to that question. It’s not a simple answer, but I have tried to make it as clear and understandable as possible. Nor was it an easy path for the Haida. It took fifty years of political strategizing, legal maneuvering, alliance building, information gathering, public campaigning, blockading, media manipulation, land use planning and astute negotiation alongside long hours of self-examination, deliberation, historical reassessment, debating, careful planning and finding common cause with rivals. And for the Haida, the struggle ain’t over yet. But they’re a lot closer to their goals than most other indigenous communities around the world. Their story is not only a lesson, it’s an inspiring tale of resilience and determination in the face of two centuries of persistent rudeness, oppression and exploitation.
There is an endless debate amongst historians, anthropologist, journalists and indigenous peoples about what to call the original inhabitants of the New World. “Indians” is insulting to some, as is “Indios” and “Amerindian”. The main problem with “Indian” is that it overlooks the enormous diversity and ignores the true names and wildly differing cultures of native Americans on two continents. “Native” has been coopted by nativists. “Aboriginals” tend to be identified as Australian natives, although aboriginal (literally: “from the origin”) pretty much describes “First Peoples” everywhere, and the word is used quite frequently in international law. “Indigenous peoples” seems to offend no one, but is rarely used for self-description of specific “tribes” or “tribals” (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked not to use those terms.)
Although it is almost exclusively a Canadian term, I use “First Nation(s)” to describe indigenous communities around the world, because no matter where they are, that term pretty much describes what many, although be no means all of them were before contact, a legitimate and sovereign nation that preexisted the arrival and occupation of European settlers. They were there first. Not all of them had laws, a constitution, or what we would today regard as a national government, but they all had land, bordered territories and hunting grounds that, along with a culture, language and a distinct peoples they defined as a “nation.”
Another term I’ll use a lot, because Canada does so in most of it’s legal proceedings is “the crown” or “the Crown.” It can mean the state, the federal or provincial government or in early colonial history it can mean the royal place at the capital of an empire or it can literally mean the sovereign imperial monarch who wears the crown — George of Britain, Ferdinand of Spain, Louis of France or Maria of Portugal. However it is defined, “the crown, as I use it, is the power with which First Nations have had to and still have to contend.
You will notice that I have used very few proper names in telling this story. That will seem strange to many readers, particularly those who enjoy reading about colorful personalities or have read enough Haida history to know that there were definite heroes, men and women who sacrificed much in their long battle for freedom and self-determination. But I have minimized using names and profiling heroes because the Haida are a profoundly modest and anti-narcissistic culture, and it’s their story that the indigenous world wants to know, a story of collective leadership not individual heroism, of patient determination not celebrity biopics or amusing anecdotes about colorful elders, warriors and hereditary chiefs. This does not mean that they’re aren’t creative, selfless, tireless Haida leaders, who have served faithfully in key positions of power. In fact while traveling the islands and researching this book I found some of the most remarkable people I have ever met.
But one of the characteristics that stood out for me about Haida leaders, men and women alike, is that they do not strive for reverence, fame or name recognition. What they do, they do for their community, not just for themselves, their immediate family or historical recognition. As one former Haida Council President observes: “Focusing on the individual is not the Haida way.” OK, I’ll tell you his name. It’s Guujaaw, an affable, mischievous, humorous and brilliant man, a talented artist and drummer, who inspired and shepherded many of the decisive Haida battles of the past half century, and served as President of the Haida Nation from 2000 to 2012. We had two long conversations while I was in Haida Gwaii, one sitting, one walking. I still have cramps in my right hand from taking notes.
Of course the Haida are acutely aware of what Guujaaw and other leaders have accomplished, and those men and women are held in high esteem. But their goal is not fame. It is, in a word, independence, which they know is something that cannot be won by one or even a handful of people. It is won by a nation, as the story in this book attests. What the Haida would like the world to know is what they have accomplished … the how of it, not the who. They know that what was said or written or done is more important and relevant to other indigenous peoples than their names and personal stories.
So I tell their story as a series of well-timed decisions and actions because it is those events, not the colorful individuals who designed, executed or led them that needs to be understood by native leaders around the world who asked that pressing question: “How did they do it?”
While the Haida created a strategy for self-determination that worked, there are scores, if not hundreds of First Nations around the world for whom these tactics would not be appropriate, at least not yet. Their situations are so dire, so uncertain and their oppressors so aggressive and potentially violent that blockades and litigation would simply be futile, even dangerous.
However, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of indigenous communities, some larger, some smaller, that exist entirely under the sovereignty of a nation state that absorbed them, without consultation, assuming complete tenure and title over their land and licensing its use and extraction of resources to anyone they pleased. It is for them this book is written.
You’re probably beginning to wonder where your book is. It’s in rewrite. My brilliant editor has asked for some fairly dramatic changes. And since I agree with most of her ideas I making them. I expect to get the manuscript back to her before the end of this month. Hopefully she will love it and send it on to it’s designer, copy editor, proofreader and libel lawyer. I can’t tell you how long they will take, but I’ve always been surprised at how slow they are. So all I can ask you for is the patience of the Haida, who have waited about ten thousand years for someone to tell this part of their amazing story.
Made my deadline. The Haida Gwaii Lesson, draft one, is now in the skilled hands of it's gifted editor Jennifer Sahn, who brought me and the book into Inkshares. Jennifer and I have produced many works together. I write them, she makes them sing. She is one of the few editors I have worked with in my fifty writing career who I ever care to set eyes on again.
It took me about a year to research and write about the five centuries that colonialism took to destroy a few thousand Indigenous cultures around the world. It should take much less time for those communities to recover what they’ve lost. Many of them are working hard on that. Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul calls it a “comeback.”
The success of the Haida and other Canadian First Nations’ land claims have inspired aboriginal peoples throughout the Americas and beyond. Hopefully this strategic playbook will soon be in print, in many languages, and will smooth the path to sovereignty and land title for millions of people around the world.
Thank you once again for your support.
In the course of petitioning federal and provincial governments for self-determination the Haida have inadvertently created a generic argument for sovereignty and aboriginal title, an argument that should work almost anywhere in the world. It's fairly simple, is addressed to the colonizer and starts with the obvious:
• We have lived here for a very long time on land we have always assumed was ours.
• We were here long before you “discovered” us and our homeland, which we have never left.
• For all this time we have thrived alone, without foreign assistance, on the resources of our land and water.
• Despite the fact that we were secure on lands we stewarded, in a culture we developed, with a religion we owned, under laws and life ways of our own making, you assumed when you first observed us, that we were a bunch of ignorant, heathen savages who had no idea how to manage land, forage and cultivate food, harvest medicines, worship our creator, trade with neighbors, conduct our ceremonies, build homes, create art or govern ourselves. And you coveted our land, and the resources on and beneath it.
• So you conquered and subjugated us, and behind the superior fire power of your weapons, you assumed title over our land and sovereignty over us.
• You kidnaped and “educated” our children, erased our language, sold our resources to others, extinguished our rights, attempted to convert us to your religion and turned the best of our rituals into crimes.
• We eventually asked you to reconsider your actions and the assumptions that informed them. You agreed to do so.
• Amicably we negotiated an agreement of understanding, or a governance protocol, a land use co-management plan, or a treaty. And amicably you signed it.
• But before the ink was dry you broke it, and returned to confiscating our land and selling our resources to people we had never met.
• While we are close to giving up the idea of sharing sovereignty with you, we have decided, one last time, to file a claim in your courts, where …
• … we seek only what we believe we deserve — self-determination, sovereignty and Aboriginal title to our land; not to some of it, but to all that we say is ours.
Some of you have asked me why there aren't any proper names of Haida leaders and heroes in the updates I've been sending. Here is a short passage from my Preface which explains why that is.
"You will notice as you read along that I have used very few proper names. That will seem strange to many readers, particularly those who enjoy reading about colorful personalities or have read enough Haida history to know that there were definite heroes, bold and sacrificing men and women, in their long battle for freedom and self-determination. But I have minimized using names and profiling heroes because the Haida are a profoundly anti-narcissistic culture, and it’s their story that they want the indigenous world to know, not celebrity biopics and colorful anecdotes about colorful elders, warriors and hereditary chiefs. This does not mean that they’re aren’t creative, selfless, tireless Haida leaders, who have served faithfully in key positions of power. In fact in Haida Gwaii I found some of the most remarkable people I have ever met.
But one of the characteristics that stood out for me about Haida leaders, men and women alike, is that they do not strive for fame or name recognition. What they do, they do for their community, not just for themselves, their immediate family or historical recognition. Nor do they take well to having their leaders receive hero status either in the community or in mass media. As one former Haida Council President observes: “Focusing on the individual is not the Haida way.” OK, I’ll tell you his name. It’s Guujaaw, who is an affable, mischievous, humorous and brilliant man, and a talented artist, who inspired and lead many of the decisive Haida battles of the past half century. Forgive me Guujaaw. I won’t do it again.
Of course the Haida are acutely aware of what Guujaaw and other leaders have accomplished, and those men and women are held in high esteem on Haida Gwaii. But fame is not their goal, which is, in a word, independence, which they know is something that is never won by one or even a handful of people. It is won by a nation, as the story in this book attests."