SpruceRoots - Transcript No.5
April 22, 2004

The Haida Constitution, Business and the Environment

John Broadhead: Haada Laas, ladies held in high esteem, friends and neighbours. My name is John Broadhead and I would like to welcome you to the fifth and final event in the Gowgaia Institute Speaker’s Series. I thank you all for coming out tonight and look forward to having an informative evening together. I’d like to thank Carolyn Hesseltine and the Friends of the Visitor Information Centre for providing this beautiful place for us tonight, to sit together and talk about the issues that are shaping the future of our Islands Community.

Haida Title is emerging on Haida Gwaii. That’s the premise, the starting point, of the Gowgaia Institute Speaker’s Series, and our purpose has been to promote community dialogue about the changes that are occurring, particularly in relation to Haida Title and the place of Aboriginal Rights in Canadian society and law, and in life on Haida Gwaii. So we have brought people together to hear some well-informed perspectives on the issues, talk about them in good company, and hopefully as a result become better prepared to understand and deal with the changes that are ongoing.

We launched the series in the Fall of 2002 with His Excellency John Ralston Saul, philosopher and writer, and husband of the Governor General of Canada. He offered that the next chapter in the evolution of democracy in Canada — which is founded on a three-way relationship between the Aboriginal, Francophone and English-speaking people — will very likely be written here on Haida Gwaii. It was an auspicious beginning for the series and definitely the best-dressed episode.

The second event featured Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson and Louise Mandel (Louise is here with us tonight, as is Terri-Lynn’s mother Mabel), both of whom are lawyers representing the Haida Nation. They explained the legal foundation of Aboriginal Title and the possible implications of the Haida Title Case, as well as recent high court rulings regarding the duty of the province and resource use tenure holders (such as Weyerhaeuser Canada Ltd) to consult with the Haida and accommodate their legitimate interests in protecting and asserting their constitutional aboriginal rights.

In the third event, Miles Richardson of the BC Treaty Commission joined us for a talk about how the treaty-making process has evolved through time; how things are going today on Haida Gwaii and elsewhere in the province; and his ultimate goal of building new, more respectful relationships through modern treaties based on principled negotiations between First Nations and the Crown.

Our fourth guest speaker was Linda Coady, Vice-president for the Pacific Region of World Wildlife Fund Canada. Drawing upon ten years of experience as VP Environment for MacMillan Bloedel and Weyerhaeuser Canada, she explained what it was like to be inside a major corporation facing unavoidable marketplace pressures to respond to aboriginal rights and environmental issues from Clayoquot Sound to Haida Gwaii and the whole coast in between.

Tonight is the fifth and final episode of the Speakers’ Series, and our guest Arnie Bellis, who is the Vice-president of the Council of the Haida Nation, is going to bring it all back home with a talk about the Haida Constitution and how it comes to bear on decision-making by the CHN and its relationships with the Crown, and maybe a bit of what he sees when he thinks about the Islands Community of the future. At some point in his presentation, Arnie will be joined by April Churchill, the Executive Assistant of the CHN, who will help explain how the Haida Nation operates and makes decisions.

In recent months, Haida Title has continued to emerge in community affairs and the courts. We’ve seen the communities come together to work out a Protocol Agreement for a local process to consider the implications of the title issue and the opportunities it may present for the betterment of our communities. And we’ve seen the Village of Port Clements appear in the Supreme Court of Canada in the TFL 39 case as an intervenor in support of the Haida.

Port Clements argued that the interests of their community would be better served by accommodating Haida aboriginal title than by what the Province and Weyerhaeuser seem to have in mind for the forests of Haida Gwaii. That was a brave and striking argument to be making in the Supreme Court of Canada, where the Province and Weyerhaeuser had presumptively claimed to be protecting the interests of local communities like Port Clements.

The Constitution of the Haida Nation was adopted in principle by the House of Assembly in 1985. Since then, there’s been a lot of work on the document to best reflect the collective values and principles that are shaping new Haida institutions and changing relationships with the Crown and the communities of Haida Gwaii.

So we asked Arnie to begin tonight with the Constitution, to give us his take on how it relates to business, the islands’ economy, the environment, community relations and whatever else might be on his mind.

Mr Bellis needs no introduction to anybody in this room tonight. He’s been here all his life, involved in many aspects of community life as a leader and warrior, and is widely known and warmly appreciated as the philosopher king of basketball coaches on Haida Gwaii. He has both confronted and engaged with the province, the federal government and industry to bring about more respectful relationships with the Haida people, and he is currently the Vice-president of the Council of the Haida Nation. Please join me in welcoming Arnie Bellis to come up and say a few words.

Arnie Bellis, Vice-President, Council of the Haida Nation: Thank you. I’d like to thank Gowgaia for inviting me to take this on — Howa’a. Ladies and gentlemen my name is Arnie Bellis and I am from Masset, where I was born. I was born where the Singing Surf Motel is today. There used to be a house in that place and there was quite a history to that house. I was born upstairs and I believe Jimmy Hart was born downstairs. Vesta Hageman was the midwife who delivered us and she is also a Great-aunty of mine through my grandmother.

I did some research on the other speakers — Miles, Louise and Terri-Lynn. I read that Terri-Lynn thanked Godfrey Kelly and Alfred Adams in their pursuit of the path that we as a Nation are on. I would like to add to the list that she had. One addition is Peter Kelly, who went to Ottawa on a train way back in 1912. Also I would like to add one of the bigger influences in my political career and that is Tom Green Sr. Tom was part of the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) from the day I started in 1984. I would like to also add Percy Williams. Percy Williams was my mentor in sports as well as on the Council of the Haida Nation.

About ten years ago I coached a Haida Nation basketball team that went to Prince Rupert. We took players from Skidegate, Old Massett and Haidaburg. At the time Percy was about sixty years old and we had one position open on our team. I said to myself if we can’t take Percy Williams who can we take? Percy was still very active, he lived the life of a sportsman — he was a very fit man, he never smoked or drank — so we took him to Prince Rupert. He had never been to the All-Native Basketball Tournament and it had always been one of his dreams. I thought if we can’t do that for Percy then what can we do for anybody.

There are a lot of other very dedicated people who work for the goals of the CHN. Of the people who have just recently passed on is of course my good friend Ernie Collison. My dad, Charles Bellis, planted the seeds of politics in me. And I’m planting the seeds in my son and daughter so they can move forward too. But I’m not pressing them, they have to do it of their own free will. Also in that generation is Jaalen, Guujaaw’s son — that’s how it works, it’s generational.

Guujaaw [President, Council of the Haida Nation] and I were raised together in Masset along with Michael Nicoll. It’s time for our generation to step up to do the work of the Nation and then the next ones step up. The next generation will also evolve the Constitution and that evolution is really key. What we always need is change, it is one of the constants of life.

In the past, we did not have a Constitution that was written down on paper. The Constitution is something new and has been debated for years and years. It took something like fifteen years for it to be finally ratified. Part of the reason it took so long is that, if all we wanted to be is like other groups in the world that have a Constitution, there is a danger that through the process of developing the document we could lose part of who we are and because we are an oral society, we have special considerations. We had to answer questions like: “How does the democratic system interlock with our hereditary system? How do we address our traditional systems?’ And to be honest with you, those things are still evolving.

There may be questions asked of me tonight and I may not be able to answer them. I do have answers but at this time some topics are under discussion internally with the Haida Nation. As a Nation we have some basic rules of operating and one of them is that some issues are kept in the Haida world until they are ready to come out. We debate issues passionately within the Nation. The issues of changing from one system to another and still having the old system interlock are difficult. It sounds easy, but it’s not when you’re dealing with individuals that have lived with a system that has developed over twenty thousand years.

In my opinion, the Constitution is a tool and the building of a Constitution was done largely out of necessity. It wasn’t that we wanted to have a Consitution, it was because of the smallpox and other situations that the two villages, Skidegate and Old Massett, had to be formed and people had to come together simply to survive. I have to publicly acknowledge the 650 Haidas that were left after the smallpox. I can’t imagine what it was like to wake up one morning and look around at your world and everything you know that is precious to you is gone, and you don’t even have the time to do a proper ceremony for the passing away of even one individual. That is something that we’ve got on the table now. That is unfinished business in the Haida world and we have to put on a ceremony to acknowledge that situation so we can move on.

There’s a lot of speculation about smallpox and a lot of thoughts and anger about that period of time. The approximately 650 Haidas that were left in Massett and Skidegate had the resolve to continue when the easiest thing in the world was to quit and they didn’t. How we feel today is something we received from them, and what I have in me I pass on. That is a fundamental obligation of all living Haidas — to pass that on.

The Haida Constitution talks about our goals, which are to be sovereign and self-sufficient. Those are big words and they are challenging words. If Guujaaw had accepted the twenty percent of the Islands that the Province of BC presumed to offer, or the Council of the CHN accepted it, he would have ceased being President the second he did, because it’s in violation of our Constitution.

How do we achieve the goals of sovereignty and self-sufficiency? In my mind, one of the things we can do is ensure that when a Haida child wakes up in the morning two or three hundred years from now, they wake up with one thing they know for sure. What they know for sure is that Haida Gwaii is part of who they are and that can never be taken away from them or the coming generations. I’m not going to just say children but in fact adults — Nonnii’s and Nunni’s — as well, they’ve got to wake up with that certainty every day. How do we do that? The Constitution is the vehicle that sets the parameters for people like myself or for other individuals within the Haida Nation.

I don’t want to go on much farther before I introduce April Churchill, she’s a friend of mine. Through my experience on blockades and a lot of very tough times in the Haida world I’ve always believed that there are two parts to it. There is to be absolution between the two and that is between a Haida man and a Haida women.

The Haida Nation is working towards documenting our version of what happened on Lyell Island and what made it possible. I was down there every day, except for a week, and I was in charge of running the base camp.

Part of what you don’t hear today publicly — and we’re going to get it out — is the relationship between Haida men and Haida women. When you work together you realize how strong that is. And you realize we both have a role to play or multiple roles to play. On any given day I could be up on the road at the blockade but two minutes later I would be down doing dishes because that was part of the task. It was interesting because the women would say, “You might be a big shot out there but in here you’re just Arnie Bellis, now get to the sink.” That was the way it was.

I asked April to be with me tonight and I asked that we do this event jointly but she didn’t want to have her name attached to it so formally. But I think it should be, because there has to be a balance. People look at me as competitive — sports and business — that’s what their perception is. But I never lose sight of basket weavers and people that do other things in the forest. There always has to be a place for people that have a different view of how a forest should be used. April is — I’m not going to say the best basket weaver because I still have to live in the Haida world — but she is one of the foremost basket weavers that I know. I’d like to introduce April and ask her to say a few words on the Constitution.

April Churchill: Xaadaa 'laa isis. Dalang gaw hl kil 'laagang. Dii uu gaw xaadaagang. Ga guudaas guustuu dii k'waalaagang. Dii uu Gawa Git'ans Gitanee gaagang.

Good people. I thank you for being here. I am a Massett Inlet Haida. The side I come from is the Eagles. I belong to the clan of Massett Inlet Eagles. Hiiliikingang hinuu dii kya'aang, isgyan April Churchill hinuu dii kya'aang. I am called Hiiliikingang and I am called April Churchill. I am very happy that you are here. This way of introduction tells Haida people who I am and what family I came from. In those few short sentences I say who my marriage families are, what treaties we have in terms of resources and my status and my position within the society of Haida people.
Before I start on the Constitution I have a story. We had meetings today in Port Clements and we went for coffee at Myles from Nowhere. A woman named Sherri was working there. I feel a spirit is moving through this Island and it is absolutely wonderful. The intimate way that she spoke with us and the way she shared herself and was part of us is something that I did not ever expect would happen in this place. And it never occurred to me — I don’t mean to start crying because I’m supposed to be so strong, but it’s tears from love actually— that I would be around for the day when something so intimate to ourselves, the Constitution of the Haida Nation, would be shared with people that are becoming close friends. I didn’t think that I would be part of that. I thank all of you that came here and I thank you for the love that you are giving and the sharing that is going on around these Islands.

I have been involved for only a short time with the Constitution though it has developed for the last thousand years and it’s quite a miraculous piece of work. It represents all that is wonderful about who we are as Haida people. It has the principles for what we believe, and as a weaver, what I believe about taking the gifts that are offered from the earth. At the same time it allows for people as individuals to believe as they believe, to follow the religions they believe and to walk on their own path.

In the Constitution you are represented in a very respectful way. We recognize your needs that are similar and that are parallel to ours. The Constitution allows us to have a Hereditary system of which the Hereditary Chiefs’ Council is so important to us.

I did it on purpose, not to have my name attached so formally, because it is traditional how it is done. The man will step forward, as the Chief steps forward to speak for the clan, but behind that man is a group of women. The women have the knowledge, the women have a strength that men weren’t born with, it is the women of high esteem who sit behind the men and give them advice. And it is the wise man, it’s our Chiefs who take the council of those women — people like Ada Yovanovich, Ethel Jones, Mabel Williams, my Nonnii Celina Petrovich and Florence Davidson. The list of women who are the fibre and the strength behind the men goes on and on and on.

This last CHN election had a large number of women elected. It is quite interesting to see these women sit at the table, to see their strength added to the table and to see what the male strength and the female strength is when working together. There is something absolutely powerful and lovely coming out of that combination — it is amazing to sit back and watch.

The Haida Constitution was given to us by Peter Kelly and Alfred Adams. They received direction from their elders who received direction from their elders. I’m proud of the document and I am amazed that Arnie and the group who worked on it were able to capture who we are in terms of our culture, as individuals, and to make it flexible so that the following generations will be able to move in and make it part of their selves and then for it to evolve to meet the needs and times that will exist for them.

I just really thank you. There is really a different thing happening around the Islands, I am feeling it and I thank you all.

Arnie Bellis: Thank you April. In our talk tonight about the Haida Constitution, Business and the Environment, it is stated clearly in our Constitution that we have to conduct ourselves in a certain fashion as it relates to Haida Gwaii. There are places in the Bible that say people are stewards of the land. Our Constitution reflects that, not in the same language, but in the way that we only take what nature can provide. That’s one of the guiding principles of the Consitution. In my mind, to do business here you have to adhere to that basic law of nature — it’s a goal of the Haida people to pursue that law of nature.

When a person tampers with nature, when you look at the corporate philosophies applied to the Islands some of them are violating nature. I don’t like to say it so strongly, but that’s the way it is. Corporate philosophy and the laws of nature need to be more centred. I said to the last Minister of Indian Affairs, Robert Nault: “The average Canadian wants to do the right thing as it pertains to nature but that doesn’t mean that the corporations do.” I know there are people within corporations who do care, but because corporations are driven by profit for shareholders there are problems.

My father [Charles Bellis] was on an Oil and Gas panel in 1984. He went on a tour to Scotland and then into the North Sea. When he came back he said to me: “You know, the thing that I learned is that there is always going to be a struggle between corporations and public entities.” I asked why that would be and he said, “Well, corporations have one mandate and that’s to make money, and they can be patient.” They can wait for the political entity to be elected that has a philosophy that coincides with theirs and when you get the two of them together you’ve got problems. Corporations are consistent entities, in politics things ebb and flow, but sooner or later the corporations are going to get what they want if we don’t set up the proper steps to keep those things in balance.

On the side of the environment we have people that want to protect it and that is great, we should all be environmentalists. Back in the day when we were blockading Lyell Island there was stereotyping going on. One stereotype was that there are the Haida, the loggers, and the environmentalists and it was taboo to be talking to an environmentalist or a logger. And yet we all, people I know, my uncles and grandmothers, had made it very clear to me when I was very young that you had to work. A lot of Haida men did not feel really attached to the Haida Constitution because they had to provide for their family and they were logging.

Since Lyell Island the people of Haida Gwaii have evolved. Actually it goes back even further than that. When I was growing up in Masset, you could see stereotyping and segregation on the floats in Masset if you looked for it. There used to be the Haida side and the non-Haida side.

We would go to a movie and there was a Haida side and a non-Haida side. My sister Sharlene, who is here tonight, remembers this. We split down the middle and that was the way it was. I was ten, maybe twelve years old and that was still going on. When we went to Lyell Island there was the Haida side and the non-Haida side. Since then, one of the things that has happened is that people began to realize that the log barges would sail away but they did not only go by Old Massett and Skidegate, but they also go by Port Clements. We started to figure out that the non-Haida had figured it out too. I shouldn’t say “non-Haida” because I got in trouble for that the other week. But we figured out that those barges were going by all of us.

In terms of Islanders contributing to the economy of BC, it wasn’t and still isn’t a reciprocal relationship. We look around and see schools that are so old it hurts, our hospitals are old and in fact what we are doing is we’re fighting over services, north and south.

People started to figure out that maybe we shouldn’t be fighting ourselves, maybe we better start talking about what we’re contributing to BC as a whole and start to say that the relationship is not acceptable any more.

This situation is not only in health but in the forest industry and fishing as well. Eighty-five percent of all the spring salmon are caught in Area One — Old Massett to North Island. That’s eight-five percent of the spring salmon in BC in that little stretch of water. When they open it up for fishing, the fleet comes in and they fish it out. Who’s sitting on the dock? Haidas and fellow Islanders, we are in the same boat here. There is a distinction in history about who has been on the Island the longest, but there is no distinction on being able to feed families. People said, “We need to talk, we need to talk together.”

In the past I don’t think anybody would have dreamt about standing up here and talking about our Constitution — that’s Haida business. But it only makes sense to talk to your neighbour about issues that affect them, because if we as Haidas don’t talk to our neighbours then we’re no different than the people who impose their legislation on us.

We want to treat people with respect and that’s in our Constitution. The word respect is something that has to be lived, not talked about. Ever since I was a kid I have heard consistently: respect, respect, respect.

“You don’t behave like that, it’s not respectful.” “You don’t talk to people like that, it’s not respectful.” On my dad’s side, Nora Bellis, drilled that message into us. “You can’t take that position if you’re not a respectable person.” Now you take the word respect and you place it in our Constitution where it appropriately fits. The relationship between Islanders has to be built on respect and being able to listen — listening to your neighbour.

I believe strongly in the strength of the family. Every human being has to be accountable to themselves and their actions and when you move forward, the strength of a community, clan or the nation is within that family unit. This idea goes back to before the days of our Constitution: The strength of an individual is the strength of the clan.

Haidas, I can speak for Old Massett, have a very rich history of entrepreneurship, owning fishing boats, seine boats, this and that. I can’t remember the number of vessels but we also had little businesses that were strong family units. One of the things that I worked hard to do around our dinner table was to talk business and I found that solutions to problems could be found around the table. My kids grew up in an environment where it had to be solution driven — rather than complaining — so that you move on. Entrepreneurs within our Nation are very much encouraged, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy at all because in business — more so now than ever — there is so much paper work you have to do. There are so many things you have to address on a daily basis. Small business is not easy.

In a world where people look at extraction or the cutting of trees as not necessarily a good thing, I don’t blame them, because usually they are towed down to the beach and put on a barge and gone. That is what we see continuously, but in my own life I have invested heavily in the philosophy of added value. It has its challenges, but in my situation I want to take six hundred cubic metres of wood and create twelve jobs year-round rather than create a one-man-a-year job with the same amount. If you just throw a choker on a tree and throw it on a barge you have to extract a lot of wood. To do more with less, one of the keys is to have a dry kiln, but nobody had one on-Island. There are a couple now, but that was the key, and you have to invest in that. One of the things I thought was if we have to invest then we should do that, but do it in balance with our Constitution and keeping a stable environment. I believe it is possible, otherwise I wouldn’t have done that.

Back to our Constitution. Our Constitution is going to go through another revision. One of the things I am seeing is that in sections of the Constitution it says, “and other user groups.” That implies fellow Islanders. I think we can build clearer language rather than saying “other user groups.” At the land-use planning table (Community Planning Forum) we talked about the Constitution in this very room and everybody read it and I asked, “Can individuals see themselves in this Constitution?” and fellow Islanders said, “Yes, we can.” I said that’s good, but we need to add more to that because it also says in our Constitution that we’re going to co-exist with others, so we have to flesh that out more. How are we going to do that?

We now have a Protocol Agreement with the Village of Port Clements and the Village of Masset. As was said earlier, those documents are a vital tool in the legal realm, but I’d like to say that I don’t think the motivation was just for the legal realm. We should have those agreements anyways, regardless of what we’re doing on our path to achieving our sovereignty. We should have those relationships with fellow Islanders. Some people say, “What’s going to happen when you take over the Island?” I think people deserve an answer and maybe they should be part of that answer, because if they are not part of the answer then we’re no different than the regimes that came here and imposed themselves on us. On a human-to-human basis that’s not respectful. Here we are going back to that word respect.

One of the things I would like to touch on is how do we get to where we want to, how do we survive, how do we eventually live? My grandmother, Winnie, was very strict, very religious, very driven in the church and very much a part of the community. My other grandmother, Nora Bellis, was quite a fair sized lady when I was a young guy. When I was growing up and like all other young Haida fellows with grandmothers, Nunni’s and Nonnii’s, it just amazed me. My grandmother, Nora Bellis, she’d walk into this room right now and she’d have on a long skirt, probably have on a wool sweater and sometimes she wore a hat and she’d have pockets sewn on her skirt. She didn’t look to have money or be part of money, but she would walk into any room and it wouldn’t bother her if the king and queen was here, she absolutely knew who she was and she was comfortable with that. My other grandmother was the same. Ada Yovanovich was the same, all these elderly Haida women were the same. It didn’t matter where they were, they weren’t concerned about it, they knew they were there and they knew who they were. My Nonnii Nora, she was an entrepreneur, she was a loan shark, honestly. She lent money out to individuals and charged interest because we couldn’t go to banks. If you borrowed twenty bucks you had to pay back twenty-two bucks.

Sharlene Greenwood (from the audience): A lot of Haidas couldn’t go to the Credit Union and borrow money because they lived on reserves.

Arnie Bellis: My Nonnii would lend money and she would also collect things. When you went into her house, there would be embankments of collections and there would be a path that you would walk through. I got set up once by my dad and uncle. They said, “Gee, Nonnii’s house is pretty messy you better go clean it up.” I took the bait and I cleaned it up. I don’t know how much money I burnt or threw away unknowingly, but she didn’t speak to me for three years. That dignity, not just in my grandmothers, but it is everywhere in Massett and Skidegate. That word of respect was something that they generated everyday. You have to be respectful and that is what we try to incorporate into the Constitution. Be respectful of your neighbour, be respectful to everybody, be respectful to the land, be respectful to the creatures and don’t waste things and don’t take more than what you need. All those things are there. April said it best, what we did was take what we understand and put it to paper. Of course, I believe Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson said, it’s like walking on the edge of a knife and you have to take each step so carefully, which is true.

Our Constitution is an evolving, living document. One of the things that I encourage people to do is to share the Constitution, so everybody can read it like we did in the Land Use Planning forum.

Can fellow Islanders speak to the Haida Constitution? Not today, I’ll be up front about that. At some point you will be able to, I can see that day coming. Where it is going will be a course of conversation. Everybody comes out of their little world ever so gradually and we see that after Lyell Island — ever so gradually people start to look at things.

Part of that relationship is spelled out in the Gwaii Trust Society. We said, “No we’re not going to participate in that thirty-eight million dollars because on one very clear issue the money was designed for businesses on-Island.” We said, “The average person that went to Lyell Island and the average person that helped in that cause aren’t business people so it’s not going to benefit us.” Part of that cause is this building we’re in tonight. It’s just one of the small results of that effort on Lyell Island and people should know this. When I was there there was no shortage of food on Lyell Island. The food trucks would roll through the village daily — in a world where the unemployment rate is high — people gave every breadcrumb they had. And it wasn’t just for Lyell Island, there were events also going on in both villages. When we were finished, every village and every Haida had nothing to eat for Christmas. So then we looked at the thirty-eight million dollars and we said, “It’s just for businesses, it’s for every person on this Island. Every person on this Island needs an opportunity to plug into it if they want to.” We didn’t say, “No it’s just ours.” We said we’ll develop a mechanism where everybody can share in it.

I’m glad to say we have the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account (SMRFA) under a local entity too, because that is a child of Lyell Island as well and it’s the same thing. It’s a sharing concept as best we can on an equal basis. That is spelled out in our Constitution, co-exist, that’s where it falls. Our land use relationship with the province is also in our Constitution. We speak to it in developing policies over land. But it also says in our Constitution that the land-planning table has to be in line with our goals as Haida people. If it’s not then we won’t support it. That doesn’t mean it’s off the table forever, it will come around again, everything does.

I’m not a very structured speaker; I kind of go here and there. But one of the underlying principles heard everyday of our life is respect. Not just me, every Haida family I know is the same. We have to be respectful and respect people. One of the things I encourage is debating. I’ve got to know what my neighbour is thinking and I have set the environment for him or her to feel comfortable in putting out their concern. At the Land Use Forum I talked about our Constitution and there was this silence for about two or three minutes. Eddie Russ, from Skidegate said, “I’ve noticed that the only people that have spoken to Arnie are Haida. We wish other people would speak and ask questions.” That is what we have to do of each other, to understand each other as well as our fears and concerns. That is really what it is about.

We are going forward in our Title case and it’s not whether we’re going to win or not. We know what’s ours — we’re going to win. We don’t have a “land claim” Canada may have a land claim, but we don’t. In saying that, we look at trying to find solutions and how we can co-exist and at the same time still have the freedom to take on personal endeavours in the life of Haida and fellow Islanders. Canada and BC have a vision on paper that they gave to us. Haida law is being put to paper. We need to see it presented clearly. When it comes to law, I don’t see ourselves moving too far away from what we currently live under, but I believe strongly that we are going to have some unique Haida laws.

April Churchill: We’ve talked a lot about the things historically that have been put into the Constitution, we’ve talked a little bit about what the principles are. But in addition to the principles we have a government structure that may be interesting for you to know. I’ll attempt to describe what that structure is and Arnie will correct me if I’m not explaining it well because it is a bit complicated.

We have a Constitution that was adopted by the Haida. We have what is called the House of Assembly and it meets no less than annually. At the House of Assembly our laws are adopted by the citizens, and so the resolutions that come out of the House of Assembly are the marching orders for the governing body, which is the Council of the Haida Nation.

The Council of the Haida Nation is made up of four people from Skidegate, four from Massett, the President, the Vice-president, two directors from Vancouver and two from Prince Rupert. As well, the two Village Councils’ Chief-councillors have a vote at the table. They meet quarterly.

We have an Executive Committee that meets no less than monthly to take care of the business that the Council of the Haida Nation has been directed to undertake by the House of Assembly. The executive committee takes care of the month-to-month business.

Then we have the President and the Vice-president, who take care of the daily business based on what the executive has directed. The work is done through committee. Issues are brought to a committee — we have forestry, land and water, fisheries, archaeology, communications and others. The committees do the research and then come up with a recommendation and forward the information to the executive which then decides if it has the authority to make that decision or whether it goes to the Council or whether it’s something that needs to go back to the House of Assembly. That is the internal structure of the CHN.

The Constitution also has a Hereditary Chiefs’ Council. Its purpose is the welfare and well being of the land and culture. Each Chief is responsible to their clan.

There are two Village Councils. They are not called Band Councils, they are called Village Councils — Skidegate and Old Massett — and they are responsible for the well-being of their membership. This includes economic development, health, social development, etcetera.

Within the Constitution the CHN has built in processes and one of the processes is what is called the Tri-Council. The Tri-Council is made up from Skidegate Village Council, Old Massett Village Council and the Council of the Haida Nation. They sit together when the Village Councils need the political backing of the CHN to put forward their initiatives. It is also a time for the CHN to share and receive feedback from the Village Councils as to how they are feeling about the direction things are going and events that are happening. The other process that is in place is the All-Leaders process. That process is made up from the Chiefs, Skidegate Village Council, Old Massett Village Council, the CHN and other people who are in leadership roles. They sit and discuss major issues that will affect the whole nation.
As long as I have been involved I’ve never seen the CHN do anything without consensus. It seems like quite a lengthy process that has to be gone through to come to a decision, and eventually all those decisions come to the House of Assembly so all Haida citizens do have an opportunity to say yes or no or to give more direction. The way we move forward is consensus-based. It takes longer but it means people are on board and they know what the issues are.

Arnie Bellis: And finally, the Constitution spells out who is Haida. One of the reasons we define that is to take it away from the Indian Act to define it. Only we can say who is Haida, it’s not the government of Canada or the Indian Act. The Indian Act is an act of extinguishment, which was one of the major reasons we wrote our own Constitution. So through our Constitution we define who is Haida and we still get into situations because I am married to a person not of Haida origin but my children have Haida blood in them. So what happens is that in our history of clans, my Aunty Kay and her clan adopted my wife in a Haida adoption ceremony. So my kids become Ravens because I’m an Eagle and I can’t marry an Eagle and my wife has to be a Raven. So my wife is a Raven and my kids have the Raven crest too. That is how we cover off the issue of clan and crest. That still doesn’t mean that her adoption gives her full standing as a Haida. In my case I married before 1995, and under the Indian Act my wife is eligible for a Band Status Card but she turned it down because she said, “I’m not Native. No disrespect, but this is who I am.”

Our Constitution is an ongoing process. Our Nation has progressed to the point of understanding that when we go forward to evolve this Constitution it will evolve in a fashion and it ties back to the word respect. As I said, I was born and raised here, a lot of my closest and dearest friends are not of Haida origin and they have families, it wouldn’t be honourable to create a tiered system — I don’t believe in that.


Arnie Bellis, VIce-President
Council of the Haida Nation