The British Columbia (B.C.) government and the Council of the Haida Nation have come together to sign a groundbreaking agreement that officially recognizes the Aboriginal title of Haida Gwaii. This momentous occasion comes more than two decades after the nation initiated legal action to seek formal recognition of their rights.

A Foundational Step in Reconciliation

Last month, the province announced that it had reached a proposed deal with the Haida, marking a significant milestone in the reconciliation process between the Haida Nation and B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin referred to it as a “foundational step” in the pathway to reconciliation.

On April 6, the nation announced the results of a vote, with over 500 Haida citizens overwhelmingly approving the Gaayhllxid/Gíhlagalgang “Rising Tide” Haida Title Lands Agreement, with a 95% majority.

In the agreement, British Columbia recognizes and affirms that the Haida Nation has Aboriginal title to the lands of Haida Gwaii. This recognition does not create title – Haida Title is inherent. Working with the province is part of the process of Gud ad T’alang HlGang.gulxa Tll Yahda/Tll yá’adee Gii gud ahl t’álang hlGángulaang (People Working Together to Make it Right).

Tamara Davidson, a Vancouver regional representative for the Council of the Haida Nation, emphasized that this agreement does not mean the government is granting the Haida anything. She stated, “We have always held our inherent rights and title to our lands. We were born knowing this is ours.”

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Recognition of Haida Title Throughout Haida Gwaii

The agreement officially recognizes the First Nation’s title throughout Haida Gwaii, an archipelago consisting of more than 150 islands located approximately 90 kilometers off B.C.’s North Coast. However, it does not impact private property or government jurisdictions. Minister Rankin has emphasized that litigation would have created uncertainty for residents and businesses.

The province describes the “Rising Tide” title agreement as a “first-of-its-kind” deal negotiated between the NDP government and the Haida Nation. It represents a shift in ownership and jurisdiction of land from the Crown to the Haida Nation in Crown law.

Gaagwiis (Jason Alsop), president of the Council of the Haida Nation, expressed that this agreement signifies a step away from the detrimental impacts of colonization on the land and people of Haida Gwaii. He stated,

“In our long and ancient history here on Haida Gwaii, this chapter with British Columbia has been a dark chapter in many ways. However, it’s a very short part of our ancient history here, and today we are creating a new story in our history here.”

Implementation of the Title

While the agreement has been signed, the specific details regarding how the title will be implemented in a planned and orderly manner have yet to be determined. The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, led by Minister Rankin, will work closely with the Haida Nation to ensure a smooth transition.

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Recognition… Finally

B.C. Premier David Eby, who attended the signing ceremony on Haida Gwaii, expressed that the title of the Haida people over the territory was never in question and that recognizing it was “so long overdue.” He believes that this agreement will have a positive impact on the entire community and hopes that it will serve as an example for other nations across B.C. and Canada as a whole.

This historic agreement between the B.C. government and the Council of the Haida Nation marks a significant milestone in the journey towards reconciliation. It recognizes the inherent rights and title of the Haida people to their lands and represents a step towards healing the wounds of colonization.

As the implementation of the title progresses, it is hoped that this agreement will set a precedent for other Indigenous nations seeking recognition of their rights and title throughout the country.