WLC Congratulates Haida Nation on Agreement Regarding Title


The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council (WLC) congratulates the Haida Nation on British Columbia’s recognition of Aboriginal title over the 150 islands of Haida Gwaii.

In a huge stride toward genuine reconciliation and the further recognition of Indigenous rights, the British Columbia (BC) government has formally acknowledged the Haida Nation’s Aboriginal title over the entirety of Haida Gwaii. This recognition is in an agreement called the Gaayhllxid/Gíihlagalgang “Rising Tide” Haida Title Lands Agreement (“the agreement”) and comes after half a century of perseverance and consistent advocacy by the Haida people.

According to a statement by the President of the Council of the Haida Nation for CBC, the title acknowledgment “will create the space to continue to further develop and refine our Haida law or a way of managing the land based on Haida history, culture and values.” While some governance responsibilities will remain with the colonial government, others – such as land management – will move forward with more active involvement from the Haida Nation. Private property interests are unaffected by the agreement.

The recognition of the Haida Nation’s title is based on Section 35 of the Constitution, which reads, “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed,” and specifically acknowledges land claim agreements.

On April 6th, “Haida citizens voted 95% in favour of the agreement at a special assembly.” Then, on April 22nd, BC introduced “supporting legislation to formally recognize Haida Aboriginal title in provincial law.”

The Haida Nation’s success is an inspiring example of what is possible through ongoing, consistent efforts on behalf of Indigenous nations, such as those efforts the WLC engages in each day. For years, WLC has worked to undo the negative effects of the reservation system and the Indian Act and increase respect for Aboriginal title through intergovernmental work and private land-return initiatives. 

For example, WLC has made progress in forming working relationships with the Canadian government. In May of 2023, WLC worked with BC to form a Letter of Understanding (LOU) in which the parties agreed “to have the kinds of discussions necessary for achieving lasting reconciliation” on topics including but not limited to Douglas Treaty rights recognition and implementation, education, wildlife harvesting, revenue sharing, local government relations, and more. In the words of Chief Don Tom, this agreement signalled “an important change in the relationship between W̱SÁNEĆ and the Provincial Government.”

Similarly, in 2019, WLC signed a Letter of Understanding with the Honourable Carolyn Bennett and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. Through this LOU, WLC and the colonial government agreed to “explore a number of priorities that would support the eventual negotiation of a nation-to-nation reconciliation agreement.”

Additionally, WLC worked with Parks Canada to remove the invasive Fallow Deer from Sidney Island and repopulate the island with Indigenous species through the Fur to Forest Initiative.

The WLC and W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society (WLTS) have also made significant progress in facilitating the return of land to the W̱SÁNEĆ community under the Ecological Gifts Program. Through the WLTS, the Berglund Family returned a 47.5-acre parcel in the heart of ȾIKEL (Maber Flats) to W̱SÁNEĆ stewardship. Additionally, the Land Conservancy of British Columbia transferred the title of SISȻENEM, a 9.67-acre island, to the WLC as an act of reconciliation.

While the above programs are powerful in their own right, the Haida Nation’s successful leverage of Section 35 of the Constitution provides a proven model by which W̱SÁNEĆ may be able to strengthen existing efforts and launch new initiatives to recover large portions of traditional territory. WLC intends to explore the implications of the Haida Nation’s efforts for W̱SÁNEĆ as part of its work to enhance recognition of and respect for W̱SÁNEĆ rights and title and will include the community in the conversation as possibilities emerge.

In the meantime, WLC extends heartfelt congratulations to the Haida Nation for the recovery of Haida Gwaii.

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