Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/Community Forestry in Gwaii Haanas

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Community Forestry in Gwaii Haanas: A Leading Example in Canada's Co-Managed Forests?

Map of Haida Gwaii

This case study examines the implementation of co-management between the native Haida peoples and the Canadian federal government, through the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve (NPR) in British Columbia, Canada. It will explore the conditions under which the NPR was formed, and how the Archipelago Management Board, made of an equal number of representatives of the Government of Canada and the Haida Nation, take into account the mutual interests of both parties, and their shared commitment to conservation in managing the region. Both sides understand the importance of protecting the cultural and ecological significance of the area but have "agreed to disagree" concerning the ownership of the islands. Critics of the agreement have noted potential flaws in the management framework, but maintain that the deal is unique in its ability to reconcile two major stakeholders in a long-disputed territory. Gwaii Haanas' rough history of battles between its affected and interested stakeholders frame it less as a model for co-management than an ongoing struggle for the rights of the Haida peoples. For this reason, I argue that the notion of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve case being a model for co-management implementation is not as strong as it may appear in the literature.

Description and History of Community Forestry Case Study

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is part of the Haida Gwaii archipelago, which is composed of 138 islands of various size, 640 km north of Vancouver on British Columbia's coast (Archipelago Management Board, 1996, p. 2). It is roughly triangular in geography and covers approximately 1,400 km2 of land (Thomlinson, 2012, p.78). It has served as the home of the Haida peoples since time immemorial, where they have inhabited the region with minimal disruption until European contact.

The first recorded contact with Europeans in 1774 initiated a "golden age" of trade for the Haida, where they earned profits trading sea-otter fur pelts (Dean, 2009, p.16). However, where there were Europeans, there were bound to be diseases. Epidemics reduced what was once an establishment of up to 15,000 natives to a mere 1,000, and left many of the settlements along the coasts abandoned; except for the two largest villages— Masset and Skidegate (Dean, 2009, p.16).

In 1882, reserves were created by the provincial government around these two sites, leaving only 0.15% of the total area of the archipelago to the native population (Dean, 2009, p.17). The reserves significantly impacted the Haida's ways of subsistence living, where they required access to vast areas for hunting, fishing and resource extraction—something impossible to sustain with only 15 km2 of territory.

Expansive virgin forests attracted logging companies as British Columbia's economy accelerated in the years leading up to WWI (Dean, 2009, p.17). Demand for high-quality wood for planes created another short boom in the forest industry, though demand slowed as the world entered the Great Depression in 1929 (Dean, 2009, p.17). A growing post-WWII economy resulted in another cycle of extensive logging on the Haida Gwaii archipelago, and the concern of total resource depletion called for the implementation of a new forest tenure system (Dean, 2009, p.18).

The 1960-70's begun an era of environmental politics on the islands. Amendments to the Indian Act removed restrictions on many things like the Haida's ability to express their identity (i.e. through the potlatch) and also eliminated other discriminatory legal practices (Dean, 2009, p.20). This period began a new wave of activism on the archipelago, fuelled by the Haida’s past under colonialism and their determination to prevent their culture from being wiped out.

In 1974, logging corporation Rayonier Ltd. attempted to move its operations to a section of Burnaby Island that was dear to the Haida livelihood, though was met with strong opposition from the natives (Dean, 2009, p.21). The Skidegate Band Council led lawsuits against the province for encroaching on their lands and rights, where the province agreed to move the corporation's operations to South Moresby Island instead (Dean, 2009, p.22). This result was not satisfactory to for the Haida because this area was equally valuable to them as Burnaby Island. Though this lawsuit later proved to have not any direct positive impact, many subsequent trials brought public attention to the injustices suffered by the Haida peoples and put pressure on the government to act accordingly (Dean, 2009, p.22).

By 1985, the Haida had had enough of the government's stalling in defending their rights and the unwillingness of forestry corporations to respect their culture, so they decided to take a more hands-on approach in preventing logging on their customary land (Dean, 2009, p. 25). When Frank Beban Logging came prepared to start cutting, the Haida created a blockade while in full traditional dress to assert their dominance over their claimed territory (Dean, 2009, p.26). Blockades and legal battles persisted until the attorney general of British Columbia decided to suspended logging permits on Lyell Island, and the Haida stopped their barricades as a gesture of good faith (Dean, 2009, p.26). The Wilderness Advisory Committee and the Environmental Assessment Panel were created to give recommendations to the provincial government on how Haida Gwaii should be managed. The Haida found these committees useful as a way to voice their concerns and requests, but the group’s lack of action led the Haida to believe they were put in place as a way for the government to stall in reconciling their rights (Dean, 2009, p.36).

Eventually, in 1987, the Governments of Canada and of British Columbia agreed to create a National Park on the south end of Moresby Island (Dean, 2009, p.42). Until 1993, there was no form of administrative arrangement between the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) and the Government of Canada. The Haida continued to act as managers of the park, sometimes illegally closing the park and charging fees (Dean, 2009, p.42). After many negotiations and court cases, the two parties signed the Gwaii Haanas Agreement, and the Archipelago Management Board was born.

Tenure arrangements

The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is a co-management between the Council of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada (Archipelago Management Board, 1996, p. 3). Their bilateral effort to preserve the area's cultural and ecological importance is a first in Canada, and its implementation is seen as a model worldwide. However, the agreements on this territory haven't always been this positive.

Before the 1987 decision to create a national park reserve at Gwaii Haanas, the land was legally owned by the provincial government. Specifically, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development are "responsible for the stewardship of Provincial Crown land and natural resources, and protection of B.C.'s archaeological and heritage resources" (Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, 2017). Forestry corporations can purchase 14 different types of logging concessions from the ministry, with varying periods of tenure shorter or more than twenty years, and its harvestable amount based on volume or area.

To this day, the CHN and Government of Canada have set aside their dispute concerning ownership of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve (Archipelago Management Board, 1996, p. 3). The Haida claim Gwaii Haanas as their sovereign territory, having acted as the de facto government on the islands since time immemorial. They believe that their customary rights are intertwined with the land, and no other entity can overwrite their ownership (Dean, 2009). In the past, the government has refused to accept these claims as legitimate, because they are not compatible with the western notions of private property and the process of law (Dean, 2009, p.10).

Administrative arrangements

Administrative arrangements on Gwaii Haanas have changed since the creation of the National Park Reserve. Before its genesis, the provincial government owned and had all management rights to what is now Gwaii Haanas. Their tenure affected the Haida's livelihood because they had very little influence over what outsiders could come and make use of their land, with little to no compensation to them at all. The provincial government would issue concessions to logging corporations without consulting the Haida—a society that "could not survive" without sufficient western red cedar for certain cultural practices (Dean, 2009 p.23). In the eyes of the Haida, this could continue no longer.

After the signing of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement, the Archipelago Management Board became the head council of administration. The AMB "examine[s] all initiatives and undertakings relating to the planning, management and operation of Gwaii Haanas", and its decisions are made by consensus of its four members—two from the CHN, and two from the Government of Canada (Archipelago Management Board, 1996, p.3). This policy lessened Parks Canada power of being the sole administrator of the park. Though on the surface this may seem like quite an excellent step by the government to "empower marginalised voices", Takeda argues that the government may have just been trying to quickly "resolve rising conflict" after news of the Haida's struggles repeatedly made national headlines (Takeda, 2010, p.179). Takeda's analysis uncovers a darker side of what is really behind the management at Gwaii Haanas. There is an underlying assertion by the province that they have not fully given up this land. Because the provincial government maintains radical title over all its territory, the province affirmed that "existing policy and legislation including existing tenure arrangements, contracts, regulations, and governance were to be left firmly in the hands of the Province to be managed at a technical professional level" (Takeda, 2010 p.183). I believe that as much as this shows that the government is willing to cooperate with the Haida in protecting these islands, they are doing so on their terms because of the fundamental way radical title exists in Canada.

Affected Stakeholders

Haida man in full regalia

The Haida peoples are the principal affected stakeholders on Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. They have been living on these lands for millennia and face direct impact by any decisions made about their lands or resources, whether by the government of Canada or by the AMB. Hume (2012) says there is evidence to suggest that the Haida have been present on the archipelago for up to 12,700 years. They are a society that relies heavily on their surrounding resources for food, shelter, and cultural necessities. For instance, western red cedar is one of the most important physical aspects of the Haida culture— it is used for such things as longhouses, canoes, and has ceremonial uses in the potlatch. Knowing the significance of this resources in the Haida's culture and livelihood, their relentless defence when faced with threats is understandable.

The Haida have fought many court battles to protect their resources. One of the most significant was versus the Ministry of Forests in 1995. The Haida challenged the province's renewal of Tree Forest Licence 39—the most extensive concession on the islands, claiming that "the Minister of Forests had no authority to renew the license because the land was encumbered by Aboriginal title" (Takeda, 2010, p.181). The province used the defence that their claim to the land was extinguished by colonialism, though the Supreme Court of Canada ruled this claim illegitimate two years later (Takeda, 2010, p.181).

Today, the Haida's interests are represented through the AMB by a pair of members. These two individuals actively promote the protection of the Haida culture, the resources of the park, and the welfare of the Haida inhabitants (Archipelago Management Board, 1996, p.3). Their well-being includes everything from ensuring that outside stakeholders pay their fair share for the use of the resources, to maintaining that at least half of the staff of the park are of Haida descent (Hawkes, 1996). The AMB is the central council for Gwaii Haanas, so these representatives have a powerful influence on decisions.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The government of British Columbia is a main interested stakeholder in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve because its workers' livelihoods remain relatively unchanged when decisions are made about the park. As an institution, the government is interested in upholding its ownership of the lands, which is a contemporary manifestation of its tie to its colonial history. They would rather go through decades of lawsuits and satisfy the forestry lobby to secure their re-election than respectfully return aboriginally claimed territory to its rightful owners.

The Canadian government also has a stake in Gwaii Haanas, because it has been designated as a national park, falling under federal jurisdiction. They are also equal members of the AMB, whose objective is to "respect the protection and preservation of the environment, the Haida culture, and the maintenance of a benchmark for science and understanding" (Archipelago Management Board, 1996, p.3).

Other interested stakeholders include forestry corporations such as Frank Beban Logging and Weyerhaeuser. These companies have usually been the subjects of the many lawsuits over the years with the Haida, fighting for their right to log on crown land.

For example, the government of British Columbia and in this case, Weyerhaeuser, were involved in what is known as the "Islands Spirit Rising" on Haida Gwaii (Takeda, 2010, p.185). In 2005, the British Columbia government failed to consult with the Haida regarding the transfer and renewal of TFL 39, even after the Supreme Court of Canada obliged them to in 1997 (Takeda, 2010, p.185). The Haida put up blockades to physically prevent Weyerhaeuser from reaching their operations, and the BC Forest Service from accessing its offices (Takeda, 2010, p.185). The barrier was in response to Weyerhaeuser's $1.2B exchange of assets with Brascan Corporation of TFL 39, where the Haida were once again not consulted before this transaction (Takeda, 2010, p.185). The Haida placed notices of seizure on $5-10M of Weyerhaeuser's logs, as a statement of their perseverance in protecting their rights. This move hit national headlines and gained widespread support. Weeks of the blockade and negotiations between the Haida and the government resulted in $5M in compensation and 120,000 m3 of annual allowable cut to the Haida for the injustices suffered of the past (Takeda, 2010, p.186). Three years later, the Haida Land Use Agreement was signed between the CHN and the province of British Columbia, which assured an agreement of ecosystem-based management that the Haida fought long and hard for, and also gave them control of 52% of Haida Gwaii (Takeda, 2010 p.186).

As seen by the cases of TFL 39, the governments of British Columbia and of Canada and forestry corporations maintain strong levels of power in the debates over Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. All three parties have similarly high amounts of power, though the federal government directly through membership of the AMB, and the provincial government and corporations indirectly through local court proceedings and social influence.

Discussion and Assessment

The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve was established as a way for the Council of the Haida Nation and the government of Canada to come together and agree on mutual terms about how the southern end of Haida Gwaii should be managed. The Gwaii Haanas agreement sets aside each party's disagreement over land ownership and instead focuses on the ecological integrity of the islands and of the Haida culture.

Overall, I am not refuting that the claim that both parties' success in reaching an agreement is unwarranted, though I feel like its achievement has been exaggerated in the literature. In my opinion, the ongoing history of lawsuits and battles on both sides tatters its image of a ‘successful' implementation of co-management and instead could be framed as a self-interested compromise on both sides. In this case, the Royal Proclamation of 1764, which states that "a formal agreement or treaty [must] be signed before an indigenous population could be disturbed from their title to the land" (Takeda, 2010, p.180) has not passed the test of time. Even with contemporary laws that protect the indigenous today, I believe the government has not been accountable enough for its actions. In this regard, I think that the provincial and federal government has failed the Haida's trust in protecting their rights, as aboriginals and as Canadian citizens.

Regarding successes of the case study, both parties have an interest in keeping the area in pristine condition. The Haida have been using a wide array of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), which encompasses their culture with the sustainability and respect of the resources, which have allowed them to manage their landscapes for millennia. Birkes (as cited in Doberstein, 2004, p.2) defines TEK as "a cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs, handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environments". Governments and conservationists are increasingly merging TEK with scientific knowledge (SK), after studying how indigenous groups like the Haida can sustain themselves for centuries on the same land without completely degrading them; unlike modern societies. A significant difference between TEK and SK is that TEK welcomes human disturbance to an extent, which contradicts methods used by parks management that limit outside influence as much as possible. For example, Doberstein (2004, p.4) claims that disturbance is what keeps ecosystems evolving, and that "managing landscapes for a fixed state - such as mature forest cover - can ultimately result in a decline in the conservation values of parks and reserves". Thankfully, the management plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve embraces the use of both scientific and traditional knowledge (Archipelago Management Board, 1996, p.8). This is unique for parks management at the national scale, where fixed boundaries and rigid regulations are the norms


Signed 24 years ago, the Gwaii Haanas Agreement has been the foundation of the cooperation between the federal government and the CHN. The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site: Management Plan for the Terrestrial Area has been the framework that lays out the goals in management of the park, and has mostly held up to its promises. Recommendations for improvement are as follows:

1. Dean (2009) argues that a new platform of discussion that provides even ground between western bureaucratic-style negotiation and indigenous open dialogue should be created, to allow for a more equitable way for both parties to express themselves so they feel comfortable and empowered. This could mean having more discussions in longhouses instead of in formal environments like courthouses.

2. Hawkes (1996) argues there should be improvements in the enforcement of regulations on the islands because neither party ceded their authority of the land. This prevents one system of enforcement to rule over the other, and for disagreements to occur.

3. A single policy for dealing with aboriginal issues should be created, because as Thomlinson (2012, p.77) points out, "Parks Canada does not follow a single comprehensive policy for working with Aboriginal groups", and the lack of policy creates more problems than it solves.

4. To create economic prosperity, I believe the AMB should revise its policy on tourism. Currently, burdensome regulations on tourism businesses are forcing companies to put their money elsewhere (Pynn, 2004). Limits on the number of ‘user days', travellers per group, and the manner by which companies can establish themselves prevent prospective businesses from considering Gwaii Haanas as an investment (Pynn, 2004). For example, the rule that no tour group can make an excursion with more than 22 people prevents one business owner from filling his boat that has a capacity of 24 from remaining profitable (Pynn, 2004).


Archipelago Management Board. (1996). Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida heritage site: Management plan for the terrestrial area. Parks Canada, Haida Nation. Retrieved from

Connolly, A. (2010, April 12). Putting People in Parks: A Case Study on the Impact of Community Involvement in Conservation. (Undergraduate Research). doi:

Dean, M. (2009). "What they are doing to the land they are doing to us": Environmental Politics on Haida Gwaii (Graduate Dissertation). University of British Columbia. Retrieved from

Doberstein, B., & Devin, S. (2004). Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Parks Management: A Canadian Perspective. Environments, 32(1), 47-69. Retrieved from

Hawkes, S. (1996). The Gwaii Haanas Agreement: From conflict to cooperation. Environments, 23(2), 87-100. Retrieved from

Hume, Mark (2012, July 20). When did the first people arrive in the Americas?. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved December 03, 2017, from

Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations. (2017, November 27). Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from

Pynn, L. (2004, Nov 20). Gwaii Haanas Isn't Exploiting Potential. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from

Takeda, L., & Røpke, I., (2010). Power and contestation in collaborative ecosystem-based management: The case of Haida Gwaii. Ecological Economics, 70(2). 178-188. Retrieved from

Thomlinson, E., & Crouch, G. (2012). Aboriginal peoples, Parks Canada, and protected spaces: case study in co-management at Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. Annals of Literature Research, 15(1). doi:10.1080/11745398.2012.670965

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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