Cedar: A fight for the forest
By Christopher Mason
For thousands of years, the Haida have used the towering cedars and spruce of Haida Gwaii
as an outlet for their creativity, and for transportation, warmth and shelter. Because of
their dependence on trees, the relationship between the Haida and the forests was, and remains,
one of respect and protection.
"Our people used
the forest fairly extensively," says Guujaaw, president of the Council of the Haida
Nation and an expert carver. "But if you were able to look back over time, the use
of it wouldn't even show up because it was only one tree at a time."
But that delicate balance was upset as European presence grew over the years, bringing an
ever-increasing demand for lumber. Disease decimated the Haida, reducing the population of
some 10,000 in the late 1700s to 588 in 1915. In their weakened state, they were no match
|'There really was not much resistance at first'|
"There really was
not much resistance at first," says Guujaaw, who is leading the Haida in their fight
to win back control of the forests. For the past 50 years, the fight has involved blockades
along logging roads. Now it also means lawsuits and legislation.
In November 2004, the
Supreme Court of Canada ruled that governments have a legal duty to consult with Aboriginals
before allowing logging, mining, new roads and other development on Crown land that is subject
to Native land claims. The ruling marked the first time that Canadian courts recognized that
the "honour of the Crown" extends to negotiating with Aboriginals before deciding
the fate of resources on land subject to land claims.
"The Crown, acting honourably, cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests
where claims affecting those interests are being seriously pursued," Chief Justice
Beverley McLachlin wrote in the unanimous Supreme Court ruling. "When the distant goal
of proof is finally reached, the Aboriginal Peoples may find their land and resources changed
and denuded. This is not reconciliation."
The decision upheld a
2002 British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling ordering the province to consult the Haida on
a tree-farming licence issued to Weyerhaeuser Co., which had allowed the company to log and
manage the forest on one-quarter of the land claimed by the Haida.
As a result of these
rulings, the Haida have also organized themselves, creating Haida
Heritage and Forest Guardians, which conducts forest surveys
for the Council of the Haida Nation. The CHN, in turn, negotiates agreements
with governments regarding which lands can be logged, and how many trees can
be cut down. These agreements are largely the reason the annual take by
logging giants has fallen from a peak of 2.2 million cubic metres in the
early 1970s, to about 1 million cubic metres today. The goal is to reduce
that figure by another 25 per cent pending approval by the B.C. government
of a land-use plan that would give the Haida a stronger voice in
negotiations with the government and logging companies. "We're in a real
transition period right now," says Guujaaw. "I think it will become a little
more stable and I think we'll have a controlling interest over the logging
that does occur."
|'The Crown, acting honourably, cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests...'|