Source: Council of the Haida Nation (Facebook)

Haida Gwaii is a misty, mossy, forested archipelago off the north coast of British Columbia, home to 4,500 people. Of the population, half belong to the Haida First Nation.

According to the 2021 census, the Haida language is the mother tongue of 45 people, and the language spoken most at home for 10 people.

On April 14, 2024, the B.C. NDP government signed an agreement (outside of the courts or treaty process) with the Council of the Haida Nation recognizing Haida Aboriginal title. 

Provincial Crown land on Haida Gwaii is now Haida Aboriginal title lands, governed by the Haida Nation.

The agreement affirms that the Haida have an inherent right to the islands based on the fact that they were living there before European explorers and settlers arrived.

Until 2010, the archipelago was known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Louise Mandell, a lawyer who helped draft the agreement, said that over the next two years the Crown will gradually vacate “jurisdictional space” and Haida laws will govern Haida Gwaii.

But what exactly is “Haida law”?

One document to peruse is the Constitution of the Haida Nation, current as of October 2023.

“The governing power of the Haida Nation shall be vested in the Council of the Haida Nation,” the Constitution reads

“The Council of the Haida Nation shall regulate access to resources by citizens of the Haida Nation and other users of Haida Gwaii.”

The Secretariat of the Haida Nation is empowered to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imports and excises” at the Council’s will.

Obviously, the Council of the Haida Nation is what we would call “the government.”

So who, on Haida Gwaii, can participate in governmental and democratic affairs by running for office or voting?

Only those with Haida ancestry, or other residents of Haida Gwaii who are vetted and approved by those with Haida ancestry.

“The Council of the Haida Nation representatives shall be elected by the voting citizens of the Haida Nation,” the Constitution states, noting that the voting age is 16.

“Elected Council of the Haida Nation representatives must be Haida citizens.”

However, a Haida citizen is not merely someone who lives on the islands.

“All people of Haida ancestry are citizens of the Haida Nation… The Haida Nation reserves the exclusive right to determine additional Haida citizenship,” the Constitution reads, also noting that the Haida Nation is a matrilineal society.

“‘Citizen of Haida Gwaii’ is an honorary designation, which may be conferred to a person who is not of Haida ancestry. Such bestowal shall not be construed as granting of Haida citizenship or Haida hereditary or aboriginal rights.”

Haida Gwaii has a population of outsiders and immigrants who move for jobs in medicine, social services, education, tourism, and resource development. There are also established pockets of non-Haida residents, such as artists and American draft dodgers.

The non-Haida residents either have to accept their second-class status, no matter how much they contribute to the islands, or they must ensure they stay on the good side of the Haida government in order to maybe get democratic rights.

At a special assembly held on April 6, 95% of Haida citizens voted in favour of the title agreement. Only those with Haida blood or approval would have been able to vote. 

“Over the next two years, the Haida’s leaders and laws will replace British Columbia’s. This will mean roughly half the population, who are not Haida members, will be governed by rulers who they do not elect,” lawyer Tim Thielmann wrote on X

“Nor is it clear to what extent the Charter rights of these British Columbians will be enforceable against the laws and other actions taken by their new government.”

Thielmann also commented that the agreement “will call into question the validity of every tenure ever granted without Haida consent.”

Aboriginal law expert Thomas Isaac of Cassels law firm also has major concerns.

“The Agreement introduces significant uncertainty for those with fee simple lands on Haida Gwaii and for those who rely on the stability and long-term nature of Crown land use authorizations for their business operations,” he wrote.

It’s not only lawyers who are worried about what the agreement will look like in reality.

“It’s an unreasonable decision, and it’s grossly unfair to the general public,” realtor Glenn Warren told True North.

“Many people come to Haida to fish, hike, hunt, and explore the beautiful islands. This will almost be impossible to do once it’s all private land.”

True North reached out to the Haida Nation to inquire about potential recreational restrictions on Haida Gwaii, but did not receive a response.

If the Haida limited recreational access of their land to the non-Haida, they wouldn’t be the first to do so.

B.C. is closing their most popular Instagram-famous park, Joffre Lakes, to locals and tourists for three periods this year, so that nearby Indigenous tribes can have exclusive access to hunt and pick berries. 

“As part of BC’s commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples… Joffre Lakes Park is closed from April 30 to May 15,” an advisory states, posted to the park website. 

The park will also be unavailable to general BC residents or tourists from June 15–June 23 and September 3–October 3.

“These periods will allow the park to rest and will establish Reconnection Celebration time periods to provide exclusive space for the Líl̓wat Nation and N’Quatqua to connect with the land.”

If Haida Gwaii wanted to separate and be their own completely sovereign territory, that would be one thing.

But their highways, airports, ferry terminals, health care, schools, public infrastructure, fire and emergency services, and programs will continue to be serviced by the province. 

Apparently, to these First Nations, limiting others’ access to certain opportunities – such as the ability to enjoy natural spaces – is a part of “reconciliation.”

B.C. Premier David Eby said the Haida title agreement is just a “template,” as he plans to give away more B.C. Crown land in the future. 


  • Lindsay Shepherd

    Lindsay holds an M.A. in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory from Wilfrid Laurier University. She has been published in The Post Millennial, Maclean’s, National Post, Ottawa Citizen, and Quillette.