The glue that holds us fast!

Remember this? UNITY DAY 2000

The all-community march to cast  “non-confidence votes” at Ministry of Forests offices in Queen Charlotte to protest logging practices on Haida Gwaii was followed by a Unity Dinner and the signing of the Unity Book. – Spruceroots photo

See Spruceroots story and more photos from the event here.


I have been thinking, that in writing about the recent presentations to the Enbridge
Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, I may have blurred somewhat the separate entities and complex relationships between the different communities of Haida Gwaii.  Just to make sure that everyone understands…it is not true, that at all times and in all places, the communities of these Islands speak as one. Far from it.

As Haida and non-Haida there are many communities on Haida Gwaii, each with very different experiences, situations, agendas, understandings, needs and styles. The differences are not superficial. They are very deep and full of real-life experience. These fundamental divergences are not of the sort that lend themselves to being wall-papered over and glossed up when a common concern or threat appears. Colonial history is much too complicated and grief-some to do that.

What I have seen in my years on Haida Gwaii is the enormous effort of comittment and generousity it requires of individuals, communities and local governments to move us all along toward a post-colonial world where the wrongs of the past are acknowledged, where the injustices of today are recognized, and the power which drives the future is shared.

Dealing with the past is a painful undertaking —excruciatingly so at times. But we are a small population here, so once engaged with the real stories of people’s lives as they are lived here and shared so generously, there is nowhere to shelter, and witness demands careful and soul-ful listening.  And that is how I have found it to be so.

Often, like many others, I have wondered how on earth we are going to create a path forward that will be wide enough and broad enough for everyone. Diplomacy and negotiations between Haida and non-Haida society, between the national and provincial governments of Canada and the Haida Nation are intricate and complex. The matters of  title and rights have been unresolved before the Canadian government and the courts for decades.

When the road gets built as you travel, you sometimes forget to look back to see how far you’ve come.  And the revelation for me came after the JRP hearings, when I was looking at the Haida Nation web site. I accidentally bumbled onto the page called Agreements. And there the path was laid out, piece by piece. I had never seen it quite that way before.

We call the agreements protocols. When I used to think about the word protocol, it always seemed a dry, crispy kind of word; a very bureaucratic way of describing what has been happening here. And in all the negotiating that goes on, I’m never quite sure where matters actually stand in all the flow of talk .

Then I looked at the list of agreements on the web site, and then I looked up the word … protocol.

So here it is: protocol from the Greek, proto = first and kolla = glue.

Oh! …  GLUE!

There is a long record here beginning with the agreement between the Federal and Haida governments to establish the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in 1993. This landmark protocol required changes in federal legislation to make it work and  is unique in Canada, and the world. The model has set the pattern for the many other protocols that the Haida Nation has established with neighbours and working partners. All the communities of Haida Gwaii have signed protocols with the Haida Nation, some sooner and some later. There are protocols for individual organizations and businesses working with the Haida Nation.

The most recent major agreement is the Kunstaa’ guu-Kunst’ aayah Reconciliation accord (locally referred to as the K2 protocol) signed with the provincial government in 2010. In 18-pages this document sets out provisions for a whole new relationship of collaboration with the provincial government. The words kunstaa’guu and kunst’aayah mean the beginning in the Haida dialects of Massett and Skidegate.

In spirit, and in the letter, all the protocols spell out divergent views on the outstanding issues of sovereignty, title, ownership and jurisdiction over Haida Gwaii. In some of the written agreements, the formal language of viewpoints is actually set  in parallel columns of text to emphasize clearly the distinctions. The protocols also commit everyone to more respectful ways of conservation and management for the land and seas of Haida Gwaii through shared decision-making, co-management and revenue sharing. Frameworks of action have been sketched out to move along the way.

So, out of a minefield of contentious issues, there has been forged a confidence that differing points of view can, and do, co-exist. It’s not always easy. I, for one, have heard some serious grinding of tectonic plates along the way. But that won’t stop us from working together on what’s best for the land and the sea, and the people who call Haida Gwaii home.

That’s the understanding and experience that glues us together.

As was shown in evidence to the members of the Enbridge Joint Review Panel in Massett and Skidegate, when the communities of Haida Gwaii  do come together in unity, they are taking on a mutual committment to the consequences of the past and shouldering a shared responsibility for the future.

From which I conclude: when there is enough space created for power to grow, contradictions can be visible and acknowledged. Differences, past and present, can be offset together, and be reflected like light in the facets of a crystal. What I see then is an extraordinarily complex web of sharp balance, often elegant in its depth of mutual understanding and beautiful in its expressions of give and take.

Over 600 votes of "non-confidence" were delivered to Ministry of Forests in Queen Charlotte 2000.
- Alexander MacDonald photo

(The communities of Haida Gwaii are Masset, Old Massett, Port Clements, Queen Charlotte, Skidegate and the outlying communties including Tlell and North Beach which are Regional District D on Graham Island, and Sandspit (Regional District E) on Moresby Island.  A total population of 4300.)


About blue sea sky

By Cynthia Jones Davies, writer researcher who lives on Haida Gwaii.
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