This historic agreement between the Haida Nation and Province of BC ushered in a new approach to decision-making on Haida Gwaii.
Haida Nation: Kunst’aa Guu–Kunst’aayah — Moving to a Sustainable Future Together
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At a Glance
In 2009, the Haida Nation and Province of British Columbia signed the Kunst’aa Guu — Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol. Meaning “the beginning,” this protocol is the first agreement of its kind in Canada. The protocol symbolizes a new era of shared decision making between the two governments.
The Kunst’aa Guu — Kunst’aayah protocol acknowledges the Haida Nation’s authority over Haida Gwaii to ensure sustainable use of their territory for the benefit of its people and to protect Haida Gwaii’s sensitive ecosystems for generations to come.
Conflict Leading to Change
Citizens of the Haida Nation have a deep connection to their territory. Haida Gwaii contains towering old growth forests, remote waterways, and unique ecosystems that have sustained the Nation’s culture for countless generations.
The Haida’s close relationship to their land became threatened with the introduction of large-scale logging industry in the 1900s. Extensive clear-cut logging conflicted with the sustainable resource use that the Haida had practiced for millennia. The logging endangered or destroyed important watersheds and wildlife habitat, and brought little benefit to the people of the Haida Nation.
By 1985, opposition from the Haida to large-scale logging in their territory became focused on a culturally significant area to the Nation: Athlii Gwaii (Lyell Island), a large island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago. This conflict culminated with the stand at Lyell Island – an assertion of Haida law to protect the island from clear-cut logging.
Under the presidential leadership of Miles Richardson, and efforts of cultural leader Guujaaw and other local leaders and activists, the Haida stood together to protect this important area, gaining international attention and support from a wide cross-section of society including environmental allies. The stand was successful and the result was permanent protection for Lyell Island as part of the larger Haida Heritage Site and Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, and the beginning of a re-imagined relationship between the Haida Nation and Canada.
A New Era for Resource Management
Over the next 30 years, the dynamics of resource management decision-making on Haida Gwaii gradually began to shift. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Haida Nation’s right to be consulted by the Province of British Columbia regarding land use development proposals (known as “referrals”) on their territory.
While a step in the right direction, this approach still fell short of the Haida’s desire for more meaningful collaboration to ensure the Nation’s ability to protect important areas and determine the best use of the land for their people.
“Before the Reconciliation Protocol, we would receive a notice of referral for a development proposal from the Ministry of Forests and have 30 days to respond,” explains Colin Richardson, a Haida member who is closely involved with the implementation of the reconciliation protocol. “If we did not respond within that time, it was interpreted that the Haida had no issue with the proposed development. It was a system that didn’t work for us because it didn’t reflect Haida values.”
Before the reconciliation protocol, we would receive a notice of referral for a development proposal from the Ministry of Forests and have 30 days to respond. If we did not respond within that time, it was interpreted that the Haida had no issue with the proposed development. It was a system that didn’t work for us because it didn’t reflect Haida values.
This approach did not give the Haida enough time to engage their citizens regarding larger proposals and was flawed in that it was designed to consult with the Haida after the proposal had been accepted by the Province.
In response, the Haida Nation pressured the system by working within the restrictive 30-day time period to identify all cultural features, endangered wildlife habitat, and archaeological sites in the proposed development area, which slowed — if not halted — the referral approval process.
“As soon as we received a referral, we would get out to survey the site and return our findings to the government. It essentially slowed the whole system down and prevented the government from being able to create certainty for development proponents,” says Richardson. “It made them realize it would be more productive to work together with us from the start.”
The Landmark Kunst’aa guu–Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol
As a result of the Haida Nations’ pressure, the Province came to the table to find a solution to stalled development proposals on Haida Gwaii. In order to establish a more productive working relationship, the Haida Nation and Province of BC signed the Kunst’aa Guu–Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol in 2009. The Protocol stipulates that land-use decisions will be shared between the two governments, recognizing the Haida Nation’s right to ensure that land development on Haida Gwaii reflects Haida values.
Under the protocol, a Solutions Table composed of two representatives from both governments is responsible for assessing development applications. Members of the table review applications with the best information available, and provide input to the Haida’s Heritage and Natural Resource Committee and provincial system which is part of the decision making process for the Haida Gwaii Management Council.
The Solutions Table categorizes applications into two ‘scenarios.’ Scenario One applications represent land use proposals with little to no perceived detrimental effects to the environment and receive a response within 1 to 14 days. Scenario Two applications, those with potential to impact the environment, are processed within 1 to 60 days, allowing more time to review the application.
The Kunst’aa Guu–Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol improves the process for both parties. The streamlined engagement between the two governments allows for Scenario One applications to be processed more quickly. Conversely, designating applications as Scenario Two allows for more time to review and consider the application. This ensures that both the ecological integrity of sensitive environments and respect for Haida values can be carefully considered.
It’s a much better process now. Before the Reconciliation Protocol, the process was very divisive between the two governments. Now, when we look at doing something, we start right at the beginning together, and it’s been very positive.
“It’s a much better process now,” confirms Richardson, who works as a Haida representative at the Solutions Table. “Before the Reconciliation Protocol, the process was very divisive between the two governments. Now, when we look at doing something, we start right at the beginning together, and it’s been very positive.”
The Protocol is the beginning of an evolving process in which the Haida are regaining management of their land. “Kunst’aa guu—Kunst’aayah means ‘in the beginning,'” explains Peter Lantin, President of the Council of the Haida Nation. “This Protocol is one step in the reconciliation process, but the first of many.”
Kunsta’guu—Kunst’aayah means ‘in the beginning.’ This protocol is one step in the reconciliation process, but the first of many.
Key Challenges and Successes
Developing an Administrative Framework for the Protocol
“Signing the reconciliation protocol with the Province of BC was a huge feat,” explains Lantin. “It took a lot of work to get to that point, but everything that came after — building a robust plan and a framework for implementation has also been a big task, and is still ongoing. It’s a living document.”
For the Nation, the work that has been done since 2009 to integrate the protocol into their existing departments and governance system has been important, but time-consuming. “It’s amazing to be in the place we are, having this agreement established for co-management,” says Lantin. “But building it on the ground takes work and financing, and it’s been a key part of where Coast Funds’ has been able to support us.”
The Haida say that the resources to implement agreements can easily be underestimated, and that a process for developing a governance structure, administrative framework, and financing should be worked out well in advance for any similar agreements.
Working Collaboratively to Ensure Results
Another way that the Nation meets the challenge of implementing the protocol is by maintaining a positive working relationship with the Provincial government members of the Solutions Table.
“The amount of work required for the administration of the Solutions Table is a huge challenge,” explains Richardson. “But we work together with the Province to tackle it. For example, right now we only have one Haida member on the Solutions Table, and the work load is tremendous. But I work closely with the Provincial members, and between the two teams we are always able to get through it. Sometimes the Haida will take on more and sometimes it’s the Province of BC – it’s an ebb and flow depending on each party’s current staffing capacity.”
The approach to building a supportive relationship is also beneficial when there are conflicting viewpoints that are dealt with in a respectful manner at the Solutions Table. “One important approach we’ve used is to work in an integrated space together, which has taught us how to work together through disagreements. It was great for me to understand what the province is trying to accomplish, and for them to have a Haida around to understand how we reach our decisions. It was important for us to always have a working relationship so that even through disagreements we can always move forward.”
This project created four partnerships, including an important one between the Haida Nation and Province of BC. This partnership sees the Council of Haida Nation (CHN) and Province of BC collaborate through an integrated process to achieve effective and efficient implementation of the Kunst’aa Guu—Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol. This includes a shared and joint approach to making land use and resource management decisions.
This project has provided support to the CHN to participate in this joint management approach by providing capacity to develop the proper structures and processes. This includes developing a governance structure, implementation teams, management council, solutions table, protected area management board, integration, capacity building, surveying and inventory, legal review, and operational reorganization. This funding also provides annual support for many of the different departments of the Haida.
Learn more about Partnerships.
The protocol works with the Council of the Haida Nation’s Mapping Department, Heritage and Natural Resource Department, and Nation-owned forestry company, Taan Forest, to ensure the conservation and resource management plans of the Nations are reflected and supported in referral planning.
“We have tasked our Heritage and Natural Resource Department to be decision makers on our behalf,” explains Trevor Russ, Vice President of the Haida Nation. “When an application comes in that requires their input, they provide expert opinion and technical support for the solutions table.” The expertise of these departments helps to protect endangered wildlife habitat, such as Goshawk nests.
Together with the Province, the Haida Gwaii Management Council set precedent in BC when they made a joint decision in 2012 to set the Allowable Annual Cut on Haida Gwaii much lower than historic levels. The rate declined to 340,000 cubic meters from 800,000.
Learn more about regulation.
The protocol helps to ensure that the Haida can make sustainable land use decisions for the socioeconomic benefit of their members. By recognizing the Haida Nation’s authority to make decisions about activity in their territory, the protocol enables the Haida to protect their resources for the benefit of its citizens for generations to come.
Implementation of the protocol and its related departments has also funded training and employment for Haida members in the Mapping Department and Department of Heritage and Natural Resources. Training has included field work for Cultural Feature Identification and assessment of important environmental habitat.
Learn more about training.
The reconciliation protocol has been an important aspect of the Nation increasing their decision-making authority. It has provided protection for important Haida cultural assets, such as Culturally Modified Trees, medicinal plant harvesting sites, and archaeological sites. Cultural and traditional stewardship of the land are identified as priorities under the protocol.
Also as part of the protocol, the name of the islands were restored to Haida Gwaii, replacing the former colonial place name of “Queen Charlotte Islands.” This renaming has reinforced the cultural importance of the lands to the Haida people and their close connection to it.
Learn more about cultural sites.
In 2012, Coast Conservation Endowment Foundation Fund approved a total of $1,244,420 toward the first phase of this project.
- B.C. and Haida Achieve Historical Reconciliation Protocol
News Release from the Province of British Columbia, December 2009.
- Haida Gwaii Management Council
Haida Gwaii Management Council Website
- Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act
British Columbia Laws, June 2010
- British Columbia/First Nations Reconciliation Agreements
Aboriginal Economic Development—Aboriginal Affairs Working Group
- Kunst’aa Guu-Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol Open House
Haida Gwaii Observer, September 2011
- Sustainable Forestry is About More Than Just Trees: It’s also about culture, history and politics
Treehugger, June 2015
- Lyell Island: 25 Years Later
The Wilderness Committee, November 2010
Published On August 22, 2016 | Edited On January 13, 2023