A century of conflict ended with Haida First Nation


VICTORIA – A series of B.C. government land management deals with aboriginal people was announced just before Christmas, and quickly lost in the snow flurries and shopping mall traffic jams.

Queen Charlotte Islands name change to Haida Gwaii

One that got a bit of attention was Premier Gordon Campbell’s announcement that official maps will now use the term Haida Gwaii for the archipelago known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. I’ve been among those advocating this sensible, low-cost bit of diplomacy for at least a decade and it’s great to see it finally happen.

Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound now to be called the Salish Sea

This follows the recent adoption by the U.S. (and soon by Canada) of the name Salish Sea for the inland waters now known as the Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

The explorer known as Juan de Fuca was actually a Greek pilot serving on a 16th-century Spanish ship who made a questionable claim to have been the first European to sail the strait. Even his true name is uncertain, but his Spanish nickname is still immortalized with a provincial park on Vancouver Island.Britain’s Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, never visited Canada, much less Haida Gwaii. The strait at the north end of Vancouver Island is still named for her; thus she avoids the dustbin of colonial history.

Acceptance of the ancient Haida name ends decades of sovereignty and resource disputes over one of the world’s special places. It is the capstone of a complex land-use agreement born out of protests and legal challenges,which began with a unique, federal co-management agreement for Gwaii Haanas National Park in 1993.

Sweeping project to define aboriginal title over vast areas of B.C.

Now it’s Victoria taking the lead in a sweeping project to define aboriginal title over the vast area of B.C. where treaties were never completed. The Haida land-use agreement is one of a string of similar deals finalized in December, with the Gitga’at and five other nations on the north-central coast, and with the Kwakiutl and five more nations on the south-central coast, extending from Parksville to Port Hardy and the adjacent mainland.>(Ottawa chipped in for a new ferry terminal at Klemtu.)

Together those deals cover most of the B.C. coast, and that’s not all. B.C.’s last major announcement of 2009 concerned a series of land-management agreements with three of B.C.’s Treaty 8 groups: the Doig River, Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations.

Treaty 8 covers vast tracks of land and doesn’t address the rich oil and gas resources

Treaty 8 was the last of Canada’s historic treaties, covering a vast swath of the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Alberta and northeastern B.C. It was signed in 1899, and as such it didn’t contemplate the rich oil and gas resources that would come to define the regional economy.

Energy development has emerged as the urgent reason to unravel the 150-year tangle of aboriginal title in B.C. The unlocking of huge gas resources in>northeastern B.C. shale, the continuing expansion of Alberta oil sands extraction, and the rise of China as a global power have made one thing clear: pipelines must be built across northern B.C.’s disputed territories if Canada is going to compete in the world economy.

I asked Campbell about all this in a year-end interview. He shrugged off the rejection by chiefs of their leadership’s proposal to grant a form of>aboriginal title across B.C. He insisted that closing the social and economic gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people remains high on his government’s agenda.

Campbell cautioned me not to draw conclusions about a lack of progress until 2009 was actually over. At that time, this flurry of agreements that reshaped esource decision-making for about half of B.C. was about to be announced.

About the Author:

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com. He can be reached at tfletcher@blackpress.ca