Canada hands title over 200 islands to Haida Nation

After prolonged negotiations, the province of British Columbia has acknowledged this intrinsic bond by agreeing that the title to over 200 islands off Canada’s western coast should indeed belong to the Haida Nation.

For generations, the Haida people have been intimately connected to the lush forests and rich marine environments of Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai, also known as “the islands at the boundary of the world.” Recognizing these islands as their ancestral and rightful home, the Haida have long upheld their deep-rooted heritage and stewardship over this land.

This historic resolution came to fruition on a Sunday when Premier David Eby, alongside significant government figures and members of the Council of the Haida Nation, formalized the transfer of land title during a ceremonial event. This ceremony, marked by the overwhelming approval of the Gaayhllxid/Gíhlagalgang “Rising Tide” agreement by over 500 Haida citizens, signifies a groundbreaking shift in the recognition of aboriginal title.

The “Rising Tide” agreement is a pioneering arrangement that eliminates the need for the Haida to continuously prove their aboriginal title in court, a process that has traditionally been both costly and prolonged. While the agreement will not impact existing private properties or alter local governmental jurisdictions and bylaws within Haida Gwaii, it paves the way for the transfer of nearly half a million hectares of Crown land back to the Nation, marking a significant step away from the adversarial and litigious paths typically associated with land title recognitions.

Premier Eby highlighted the broader implications of this agreement, noting its potential to enhance opportunities and prosperity not only for the Haida people but also for the wider community and province. He emphasized that this could serve as a model for other Indigenous groups across Canada to have their titles recognized more affirmatively and collaboratively.

This landmark decision arrives amid a crucial period for Indigenous rights in Canada, closely following a Supreme Court judgment condemning the federal government’s failure to uphold a long-standing land promise to the Blood Tribe in Alberta. It also precedes another important Supreme Court decision regarding potential compensation for treaty breaches.

It’s important to note that essential public services like airports, ferry terminals, healthcare, and schools on Haida Gwaii will remain unaffected by this agreement. However, the Haida continue their legal battle over claims to airspace and maritime areas, which underscores their ongoing commitment to safeguarding their territory.

Historically, the Haida have endured the exploitative practices of colonial and federal authorities that mined their lands and depleted their waters. In response, the Haida have been pioneers in environmental activism, exemplified by their efforts in the 1980s to protest against the destruction of their lands and the pilfering of their cultural sites. Their resolve led to the Gwaii Haanas Agreement in the 1990s with the federal government, a globally acknowledged model for cooperative land management and conservation led by Indigenous peoples.

With nearly half of Haida Gwaii designated as a protected area, the Haida remain dedicated to the conservation of their lands and waters, often stepping in where they feel governmental protections fall short. This ongoing commitment to their land underscores a broader narrative of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental stewardship, pivotal not only for the Haida but as a precedent for Indigenous groups worldwide.

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