Recognizing the Haida Nation’s inherent right to self-governance & my dear friend, Gut Takin Jaad

May 19, 2023 | 42-4, Bills, Blog, Governance, Indigenous, Legislature, Sessions, Video

In April, I had the pleasure of responding to Bill 18, the Haida Nation Recognition Act, and reading the words of my dear friend, Gut Takin Jaad, a Haida member, former legislative intern with the BC Green Caucus, and a current Constituency Assistant for MLA Sonia Furstenau.


A. Olsen:
I appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill 18, the Haida Nation Recognition Act. I first want to just acknowledge…. The minister noted Guujaaw. I think also in recognition of the many leaders from the Haida Nation who have advanced the relationship with the provincial government to where it is today, and we’re standing here talking to Bill 18…. Certainly, I think that Guujaaw is the most well known of those leaders.

It has taken incredible leadership in our communities, First Nations communities and Indigenous communities across the province, a level of patience and persistence that is unmatched in order to achieve…. As the official opposition critic and the minister have talked about, the legal advances to get us to where we’re at today have taken no end of effort on behalf of Indigenous leaders.

I often say that Indigenous leaders in this province — in British Columbia and, indeed, across the country — are some of the most powerful leaders that we see in this place, and it’s because they are often required to do so much with so little. As the official opposition critic just noted in talking about the fiscal reform that’s much needed, the reality is that this chamber, the power that is in this place, controls almost everything about Indigenous lives. The power that is within the House of Commons controls, through different pieces of legislation, the pace and the flow at which decisions are being made.

Without that fiscal reconciliation, a companion to the Declaration Act, which enshrines the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous people…. These are twin, companion initiatives that need to be taken in concert with one another.

I know that we first advanced the legislation here in the province, the first province to do so in the country, even, the first governing body in the country to advance the Declaration Act and to enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act into law. It happened right here in British Columbia, and we did this unanimously.

I think, as I’ve said in other speeches with respect to First Nations inherent rights and title, that the passing of that law unanimously is really important. It’s critical for First Nations. And it’s important that when our Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and the government speak to that, they continue to remind all members, and that when we speak to this, as members of the opposition, we continue to be reminded that we stood with government.

Oftentimes the stories that are told about this place are of the division, of this two-swords’-lengths line that runs between this side of the House and that side of the House.

But I think that it’s important for Indigenous leaders to know that when important laws are being made and important actions are being taken within this Legislature, every effort has been taken to build consensus. As the Indigenous nations, Indigenous people have existed on the landscape and engaged in the land and the waters of this beautiful place since time immemorial, it matters little to them, or should matter little to them, who’s on this side of the House and who’s on that side of the House.

What matters is that they know that when they’re engaging this House, they’re engaging a mature governing body that does its work well in here and that can deliver for them consistency so that then when we are working with the leaders, leaders such as Guujaaw and many others across the province, whether it be this year or two years from now, the government here is doing everything in its power to ensure that the decisions that are coming out of it are embraced by members of the House, of the whole House, as much as we possibly can.

It’s not to say that there aren’t going to be differences of opinion. There absolutely will be differences of opinion. But that building of consensus is really important so that then we can continue to celebrate the acts of reconciliation. The journey of reconciliation is one that we’re taking collectively.

I think today as we hear these the comments that have been made, first by the minister and then by the official opposition critic, the questions that will be asked will be in an effort to advance the entire conversation. It’s with that spirit that I appreciate it.

I appreciate the work that this minister has done to advance Indigenous reconciliation and relations. As I was given the benefit of a phone call to be notified that this bill was coming, I said these words to the minister privately, and I think that they need to be on the record.

As much as we push and prod and test each other in debate and discussion, which is a necessary part of building consensus and testing and making sure that we’re sure about what we’re doing, it’s important to also balance that with the recognition that we are in a substantively different place today because this minister and the former minister continue to build on the efforts of the previous ministers to advance reconciliation.

It’s a collective effort of the ministers responsible for the file in here, but it’s also, as I framed it earlier, a testament to the incredible and powerful leadership of Indigenous leaders in the province. So I just raise my hands in gratitude and thank the minister for continuing this important work.

Bill 18 is a bill that declares the inherent rights of governance and self-determination of the Haida Nation and the Council of the Haida Nation as being the government of the Haida Nation. I think it was only a few years ago that we were kind of doing battle about whether or not we were ever going to mention inherent rights because those are very, very powerful words, especially when you put them together in a sentence.

The power of those words actually, themselves, starts to undermine and deteriorate the power that this place feels that it has exclusively, because it’s no longer exclusive if there are others that have the inherent rights to be able to generate revenue off their lands and make decisions for their people, just as this bill is doing for the Haida.

It’s also important to recognize, as my colleague in the official opposition mentioned, that as with every one of these agreements, all of the other nations in the province are looking to the progress that’s been made and saying: how can they also engage in that?

So this legislation is going to be followed by agreements by the Council of the Haida Nation to address the Haida governance and jurisdiction, starting with protected areas and Haida title lands, free of third-party interests, as well as the negotiation of fiscal arrangements, which has been noted as a very important part of this work.

As has been noted, this has been a long journey for the Haida, starting 21 years ago. The negotiation and litigation, the dual process, continue together. With the Changing Tide framework for reconciliation, the Council of the Haida Nation has received good-faith measures, funding from both the federal and the provincial governments, which they are going to be using to do what Indigenous nations do when they get resources. That’s invest in their community, invest in their governance and build their communities.

It’s important to note the words from the Haida Nation that this recognition agreement, from their perspective, is not a treaty. The very clear statement that I think needs to be mentioned in the context of this is that it does not grant the Haida rights, because their rights are inherent. I think that’s something that’s important to acknowledge here. It simply recognizes that the Haida Nation’s inherent rights to governance and self-determination exist and that we will be engaging with each other — this governing body and their governing body — from that perspective.

With that, I have the honour of reading some words from a member of my colleague from Cowichan Valley’s constituency office, Gud Takin Jaad— Rose Williams, as she’s known. Rose joined us last spring in the B.C. Green caucus as one of our legislative interns and has been working with the member for Cowichan for the last number of months.

I’ve always appreciated her perspective. I asked if she would be willing and prepared to have me say a few things from her perspective as someone who is Haida and how this makes Rose feel about where we’re at today.

Here are those words from Gut Takin Jaad:

“The Haida phrase for reconciliation translates to ‘people working together to make things right,’ and this bill, the Haida Nation Recognition Act, is a vital step towards making things right.

“As Haida, we understand our deep connection to the lands and waters of Haida Gwaii. The archipelago has been the homeland to my nation since time immemorial.

“My relatives tell me stories of the last ice age. Our ancestors gathered atop the highest mountains where the ice didn’t reach to discuss governance and the upcoming plans for the year. Potlatches were held to honour significant events and redistribute wealth and for the people to witness governance.

“Our ancient teachings tell us of the importance of Yah’guudang, respect for all living things.

“Despite our strong systems of governance, cultural practices and close relationships to the land, the colonial governments of so-called Canada stood to diminish us. The potlatch ban criminalized our culture and our systems of governance for nearly seven decades.

“Generations of Haidas were forbidden from gathering, feasting and practising our culture. Generations of Haida children were taken from their homes and forced to attend residential schools across the province. Despite the best efforts to diminish us, my nation remains strong, and our culture survived.

“When I was 12, I distinctly remember my sixth-grade teacher walking into the classroom brandishing a shiny new globe. We took turns spinning the globe and placing our fingers on the tiny archipelago in the Pacific. Finally, Haida Gwaii. Our place name was finally accurately reflected on the globe.

“Although the name change alone didn’t make up for the centuries of colonial violence, the cultural genocide experienced by my nation, it was the proof that the colonial governments of so-called Canada were willing to make things right.

“We are reclaiming and revitalizing what makes us Haida. Not long ago our language, our culture, our connection to the land and our very existence were threatened. I feel so grateful to exist in this monumental time of resurgence.

“The changes that have taken place in recent decades are remarkable, and although there is a long way to go, the Haida Nation Recognition Act propels us forward.

“I honour my ancestors and my relatives, the Council of the Haida Nation, the elected governance of Skidegate and Old Massett and our Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs. So much good work has been done to get to this point.

“The Council of the Haida Nation is unique. It was not created under the purview of a colonial authority by way of the Indian Act but rather through the efforts of the community. The Council of the Haida Nation encapsulates the voices of elected officials, Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs, and their decision-making is guided by Haida laws and values.

“This bill recognizes what we have always known to be true. The Haida Nation has inherent rights of governance and self-determination. We have an inseparable connection to the land and waters of Haida Gwaii.

“As Haida people, we have a responsibility to honour this connection by governing our homelands through Haida law. This bill affirms our right to do so.

“By recognizing our inherent title and the rights as Haida people, the provincial government is taking the steps forward to making things right.




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