Action Canada - Northern Policy Adventures in Haida Gwaii
*I also made an album of ALL my photos from Haida Gwaii if you want to take a look!*
“Grandfather eventunally told Loon to go to the longhouse where the loon would find a box. Loon opened that box and found another box, and when Loon opened that box, he found another box. Inside it, he found a black stone and a white stone. As grandfather instructed, Loon blew as hard as he could on the black stone and threw it as far as he could. This became North America. Then he took the white stone, blew on it softly, and tossed it gently, and this became the land that we are on today: Haida Gwaii. Just as loon was able to plead to grandfather, the people are today able to care for loon.” - Story of the Creation of North America and Haida Gwaii by Gwaaganad (Diane Brown), Haida Storyteller and Medicine Woman
Sunrise in Skidegate
In an effort to improve the Action Canada fellow’s understanding of Canada, each year, the program takes a trip to a northern community. Previous years trips have visited locations such as Northern Labrador, Yellowknife, and even Alert. This year, our destination was the remote archipelago of Haida Gwaii - The Islands of the People (formally known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). I think I can speak for all of the fellows in saying that this Northern Conference was highly anticipated and, hearing from previous fellows, was expected to be one of the most incredible experiences of the fellowship year.
Having just returned from this unique and remarkable part of Canada, I can assert that all these expectations were exceeded. All of us who travelled to this beautiful isolated destination off the coast of Northern British Columbia left with a much broader and deeper understanding of both it’s culture and history
View from the Haida Heritage Centre
The Northern Policy Conference reassigns fellows into new groups (I was excited to work with a new group, but sad to leave my dearest Team Awesomes). Three policy teams were formed to meet and work with local leaders involved with three different issues: environmental governance (my group!), economic development, or self governance. An expert policy report on each topic was prepared prior to the conference as an introduction to the topic (one of which being prepared by Tony Penikett, former Premier of the Yukon Territories, who was with us in an advisory capacity for most of our time there. Great man!). Off to Haida Gwaii we go!
Upon arriving (flying into Sandspit - and ferrying to Skidegate), we were treated to an introductory dinner at the home of a woman named Roberta. She made absolutely incredible food for us (the vast majority of which had been picked/harvested/caught by her and her family). We were given a great Haida Gwaii 101 lecture by 04/05 Action Canada fellow Severn Suzuki-Cullis (if you haven’t seen this video already, you should!), who provided us with an excellent perspective of the islands and their people (or the other way around).
The first half of our time on Haida Gwaii was spent meeting with numerous individuals involved with our assigned policy topic, which, for our group, included: the Parks Canada superintendent of the supernatural Gwaii Haanas national park, Gwaaganad (who told us the story included above), a nature guide and interpreter, a couple highly involved in the development of Haida Gwaii’s environmental politics (one being a cartographer and the other a municipal councillor, amongst other things), a forestry consultant and, finally, a woman working on developing a proposed Marine Conservation Area around the islands. Everyone was very open and honest and I was amazed at how much we were able to learn about environmental governance in such a short amount of time. The aforementioned couple invited us into their home for dinner where, after 2 days of intense meetings and discussions, we spent an evening reflecting on our discussions and planning for the next step - a public dialog to share what we had learnt with interested locals and community members.
Vassiliki (Vass) Bednar speaking during our public dialog
The dialogues were a resounding success, somewhat surprising to me given the depth of the topics we had been working on and the limited time for preparation. Having gone through such a whirlwind process of both educating ourselves on the issues and then reflecting our learning back to the public was incredible, and allowed us with an open space in which to practice our public speaking and leadership skills. I’d love to dig into detail about everything we learnt about, but I don’t think a short blog post could do it justice.
A piece of art by John Broadhead in response to the proposal for the Enbridge pipeline
Although a core focus of this conference was the public dialog, there was plenty of time allowed for exploring and awesome trips on the island. Some highlights:
- Meeting Guujaaw, the President of the Council of the Haida Nation, who has been an instrumental player in the politics and activism that have made Haida Gwaii famous to the world (e.g. being involved in the Lyell Island conflict in the 80s). Having just returned from testifying at the Enbridge hearings in Edmonton (one cause, for which there is unilateral support on the islands, is opposition of the pipeline), he spoke with us about his role in provincial and federal politics, and his perspective on the future of Haida Gwaii.
- Taking the Loo-plex, a full-scale fibreglass model of Bill Reid’s famous Loo Taas canoe
2012/13 Fellow and Advisors out on the Looplex with the beautiful Haida Heritage Centre in the background
- The FOOD! Someone told me that the food on HG is called “Millionaire Food” and they were spot on. The quantity and quality of all the amazing seafood we ate there was incredible. A highlight certainly being the Roe on Kelp (dried or cooked!) that was waiting for us around every corner
- Attending Haida Cultural Night where we got to participate in some traditional song and dance. Although it was one of the few times during the visit that I felt like an “observer”, it was still run in a participatory manner that was fun, open and memorable
- Visiting North Beach, a site which is central in many of the Haida’s legends about the birth of man. You can instantly understand why when you see the long, serene, untouched beach stretching as far as you can see.
Justice Malcolm Rowe and the rest of the boys doing a warrior dance in Massett
This conference, our third of the year, very much deepened my connection with all of my fellow Fellows, and further reinforced our shared goals and values. The group that has been chosen for this program is truely incredible, and I feel very honored and thankful to be a part of it. I’m back in Vancouver now, struggling to get my mind back into that of a biomedical PhD student, while lingering thoughts and feelings of the island remain.