Gwaii Haanas Agreement

What makes the Gwaii Haanas agreement so unique in addition to its dual name is its de facto power-sharing agreement. Unlike most agreements with First Nations, the Gwaii Haanas Agreement does not explicitly entrust final decision-making to the Canadian government. On the contrary, the hierarchy of authority between the Haida and Canadian authorities remains unclear. In 1974, South Moresby Island was in the middle of a dispute between wood planners and the public. The loggers tried to create a resource capital on the island and the public tried to preserve these resources by developing a proposal to create a pristine nature reserve in the area. It seemed, until 1985, that the future of South Moresby Island was more dependent on the dreams of loggers than the public that South Moresby Island`s past was taken away to build the future of communities elsewhere. This year, however, the Haida nation claimed the territory as heir to its population and halted the extraction of raw materials in 1987. This year, the South Moresby Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Canada and British Columbia, and the following year the area was declared a national park reserve under the South Moresby Agreement. After four years of cooperation, the Canadian government and the Haida Nation Council signed the Gwaii Haanas Agreement in 1993 (Parks Canada, 2006). The agreement provides that the Haida Nation appointed Gwaii Haanas to the Haida Heritage Site in 1985. Shortly thereafter, the Canadian government designated the Gwaii Haanas Land Area as a National Park Area, and in 1993, the pioneering Gwaii Haanas Agreement was signed by the Haida Nation and the Canadian government. In this revolutionary agreement, often referred to as ”agreement before its time”, the two sides agreed on the need to protect the natural, cultural and maritime treasures of the region, but also acknowledged their differences of opinion on the title of the territory. In 2010, the Canadian government designated the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, hence the three-part name in which land, sea and people are an integral part of a management plan.

A recent article by Shyanna Sawyer in the Haida Gwaii Observer describes the lengthy process of establishing the agreement, including a blockade at Lyell Island. A few weeks ago, television news and newspaper columns reported the installation of a new totem pole on the south of Haida Gwaii. While media coverage was widespread and images of the 13-metre totem pole were superb, most of the coverage was superficial and had not taken on the real meaning of the 20th anniversary of the agreement on the creation of the Gwaii Haanas National Park.

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