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Decades in the making, B.C. signs agreement handing over title to Haida Gwaii

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HAIDA GWAII -

The B.C. government and the Council of Haida Nation have signed an agreement officially recognizing Haida Gwaii's Aboriginal title, more than two decades after the nation launched a legal action seeking formal recognition.

The province announced last month that it had reached a proposed deal with the Haida, which Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin called a “foundational step in the reconciliation pathway of Haida Nation and B.C.”

At the signing ceremony Sunday, Rankin said the agreement is “really, really important,” pledging to do whatever he can to “breath life into this historic agreement.”

“We could have been facing each other in a courtroom. We could have been fighting for years and years, but we chose a different path,” Rankin told those gathered for the ceremony. “We chose a path that requires creativity and courage and we got there together.”

The deal recognizes the First Nation's title throughout Haida Gwaii, but does not impact private property or government jurisdictions, and Rankin said at the time that litigation would've created “uncertainty for residents and businesses.”

Council of the Haida Nation President Jason Alsop said the agreement is about “honouring and recognizing the truth of our Haida history, and our relationship with Haida Gwaii that goes back to ancient times.”

“It's an acknowledgement of past denials and harms, and fully embracing the truth that Haida Gwaii is Haida land, always has been, always will be,” Alsop said. “We've never surrendered, ceded, in any way given up title to our land.”

Alsop said the Crown tried to “assert their sovereignty upon us,” but the agreement means that after more than a century and a half of that imposition, “we stand before you today committed to a future that's rooted in Haida history, Haida culture and Haida values in upholding our inherent right and responsibility to caretake Haida Gwaii.”

The province says the “Rising Tide” title agreement is a “first-of-its-kind” deal negotiated between the government and the nation, shifting “ownership and jurisdiction of land from the Crown to the Haida Nation in Crown law.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Premier David Eby said it was “a solemn and important recognition today and it is something that is so long overdue.”

Eby said the title of the Haida people over the territory was never in question, and courts have been urging governments to recognize Aboriginal title by making agreements, rather than litigating the matters.

He said when the law is introduced into the legislature,“ it will be the first time in Canada the title is recognized in this way.”

“It is an entirely different way of recognizing title, something that the courts have been telling us to do for a long time,” he said. “It will also be an example and another way for Nations, not just in British Columbia but right across Canada, to have their title recognized.”

A statement published Sunday by the nation's Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said it is yet to be determined how the title will be implemented in a “planned and orderly way.”

The agreement was signed by representatives from the Council of the Haida Nation, several hereditary chiefs, and officials from the B.C. government and others from municipalities.

Desi Collinson, a regional representative on the Haida council, was the last signatory on the agreement, and applause broke out after it was done.

“We've all witnessed history here today,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2024

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