Island Inherent

Haida Gwaii

Fall 2014: Maisonneuve Magazine

In Skidegate, British Columbia, a small village on Haida Gwaii, the Spirit Lake Trail winds its way from the island’s main highway, near the ferry terminal that connects Canada’s most westerly region to the mainland.

I follow it through the lush understory, weaving between the gnarled tops of wide tree stumps—the handiwork of loggers plying their trade sometime over the last century. From the tops of the trees, jet-black ravens scan for prey and places to land below, squawking loud objections to my presence. It’s almost as if they’re reminding me to be respectful; that this is a holy place.

Whether it’s the ancient cedar and spruce trees towering above mountainous terrain that continues to thrust ever higher above salt-water waves, or the aging totem poles that dot the many beaches, Haida Gwaii has a sacred quality that’s hard to define. But the area’s indigenous residents are hoping that sacred connection will help them gain control over land they’ve occupied for millennia.

Once called the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is now the focal point of one of the most advanced Aboriginal rights and title cases in Canadian history, where First Nations and the Crown could create a new, sustainable model for managing the land they share. The Haida people, who have been fighting for control over their traditional territory for decades, contend that they legally own these lands and waters—and that could mean major challenges for industrial projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The Haida are generally open to industry and development if it is sustainable and aligns with their values, but they argue this pipeline and tanker project should not go ahead, and are taking legal action to stop it.

Read the full story at maisonneuve.org.

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