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B.C. government affirms Haida Nation title over all of Haida Gwaii in draft agreement

March 28, 2024

Deal recognizing Haida title follows 50 years of work

Two boats on a water surface with an island with trees in the background
Haida Gwaii is made up of more than 150 islands, located about 90 kilometres west of British Columbia’s north coast. A draft agreement between the Haida Nation and the British Columbia government recognizes Haida title over all of Haida Gwaii. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

CBC Indigenous: British Columbia has officially recognized the Haida Nation’s Aboriginal title over the islands of Haida Gwaii with a draft agreement that has been 50 years in the making.

The Gaayhllxid/Gíihlagalgang “Rising Tide” Haida Title Lands Agreement officially recognizes and affirms the nation’s right over the land of Haida Gwaii under Section 35 of the Constitution — which affirms the rights of Indigenous people.

“Our people have been asserting and upholding our title and rights and jurisdiction over all these years,” said Gaagwiis (Jason Alsop), president of the Council of the Haida Nation.

“This is a step towards trying to find a path forward for more of a peaceful coexistence with … the Haida Nation, Haida people and the people who make Haida Gwaii home.”

The agreement sets out rules for how land will be governed on Haida Gwaii — along with a two-year transition process that will focus on how land resource decision-making will be addressed, starting with protected areas, fishing lodges and forestry, according to the document.

“It really will create the space to continue to further develop and refine our Haida law or a way of managing the land based on Haida history, culture and values,” Gaagwiis said.

A man in a read sweatshirt speaks to a person holing out a microphone.
‘Our people have been asserting and upholding our title and rights and jurisdiction over all these years,’ says Gaagwiis (Jason Alsop), president of the Council of the Haida Nation. (Carolina de Rky/CBC)

The deal will allow for a shift in land management that will not come into conflict with provincial laws, he said.

“Recognizing Aboriginal title isn’t in conflict with people who live on our territories,” he said.

Some jurisdictional responsibilities such as health, education, transportation and fire and emergency services will remain in the hands of the province and municipalities on Haida Gwaii and the agreement won’t have an impact on current municipal boundaries or functions.

“We recognize we are an island. There’s a lot of services and parts of managing the islands that are going to take time to build up the revenues and the capacity,” Gaagwiis said.

The agreement is laid out in a way that the nation will be able to prioritize its focus on land management as it takes over responsibilities, he said. It also helps settle part of current Haida title court proceedings that were first filed by the nation in 2002, when it asserted its title rights over the land, water and air of Haida Gwaii.

A signage with a subtitle that reads 'We all love the children (every child matters)', along with its Indigenous translation as the main title text in a larger font, is seen in the foreground. In the background, the B.C. Legislature in Victoria is pictured.
The draft agreement must be ratified by the Haida Nation and the B.C. government.  (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Gaagwiis said a court date has been set in 2026 for proceedings between the Haida Nation and the provincial and federal governments.

Private property ‘100% protected,’ says minister

The agreement says fee simple interests — such as private property — will not be infringed upon and will remain under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.

In a statement posted on its website on March 22,

The Opposition B.C. United party (formerly the B.C. Liberal party) posted a statement March 22 in which party leader Kevin Falcon and Michael Lee, shadow minister for the attorney general and for Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said the agreement would affirm the Haida Nation title in “a manner unprecedented in Canadian law” and would potentially infringe on the rights of landowners and users of Crown land.

The First Nations Leadership Council, which consists of executives from the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said in a news release on Monday that the statement from B.C. United aimed to mislead, instil fear and derail the draft agreement.

“The agreement is progressive and will promote harmonious coexistence, partnership, and prosperity, and is a win for all British Columbians,” said the release from the council.

Murray Rankin, B.C.’s minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said the deal will provide more certainty for people who live and operate businesses on Haida Gwaii about how land is managed.

“We believe that private property is 100 per cent protected and will always be, going forward, protected,” said Rankin.

A man with white hair and glasses speaks at a podium in front of B.C. flags.
B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin says the Haida Nation ‘will have more say over land-use decisions’ because of Aboriginal title on Crown land. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“Haida [Nation] will have more say over land-use decisions because of the existence of Aboriginal title on what we call Crown land.”

What this will look like will be negotiated over the next two years, Rankin said, and will include an “enormous amount of engagement with those affected.”

Ratification vote scheduled

Clifford Atleo, an assistant professor of environmental management at Simon Fraser University who is Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian, said the fact that the agreement recognizes all of Haida Gwaii is significant.

During B.C. treaty negotiations with First Nations in the mid-2000s, he said, the provincial government offered communities only between five and eight per cent of their claimed territory.

A man looks at a camera with a bookshelf filled with books behind him. He has a salt and pepper beard and a navy blue collared shirt.
Clifford Atleo, assistant professor of environmental management at Simon Fraser University, calls the draft agreement ‘significant.’ (Submitted by Clifford Atleo)

Atleo said the current NDP government seems to show more of a willingness to engage in these kinds of negotiations.

“This is the beginning of another process that’s going to involve years and years of negotiations, but I think it’s an important milestone,” he said.

The Haida Nation has scheduled a house assembly on April 6, when its citizens can vote on whether to ratify the draft agreement.


Jackie McKay, Reporter

Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC Indigenous covering B.C. She was a reporter for CBC North for more than five years spending the majority of her time in Nunavut. McKay has also worked in Whitehorse, Thunder Bay, and Yellowknife.