Moderated by John Farrell.
John Farrell: Arnie, April, thank you very much for an enlightening and heartfelt presentation. Arnie has extended an invitation for us to ask questions about the Haida Constitution. So let’s have that conversation now, I invite your questions.
Question: I want to say thank you, Arnie you’re an inspiration in the art of unstructured conversation and presentation, thank you. I know we have a small audience tonight but many other people are listening. The Observer [newspaper] is here, so the rest of the Islands will hear what you have said and there will be twelve hundred copies of tonight’s proceedings going out all over North America. I know there is a lot of keen interest in what is said here.
You touched on the land use plan that is proceeding unlike anywhere else, as the Haida and the province are jointly convening this process. You spoke about the Constitution and you presented the Constitution at the Land Use Planning table. I’m wondering how you see an outcome of the Land Use Plan that is consistent with the Constitution? What would be the hallmark of a Land Use Plan that fulfilled the mandate of respect in the Constitution? What would be the defining characteristics?
Arnie Bellis: Personally, the goals for the Land Use Plan would have to speak very clearly to sustainability in terms of what nature can provide. At the first or second Land Use meeting I made a point that one of the things we need is quality information. From what I understand, the difference in information varies between the Ministry of Forests, Weyerhaeuser and the others. So, in my mind there has to be a common understanding and people have to buy into the data and information yes this is the best we can do, this is the best information we have so we can make decisions. That’s one of the first things I will look at the quality of information we make decisions on. If it’s suspect then there’s going to be a restart until we all agree. That is one of the first ones quality information that we can trust.
I was just thinking about this today because if we take the land that has already been harvested, is that going to be in the Land Use Plan? Or is that something we should take off the table and apply the Land Use Plan to the rest of it. Maybe we want to think about doing that until this land starts to regenerate itself. Why would we put a Land Use Plan on land that has already been harvested and have it part of the equation? Just take it right off and put the Land Use Plan in the areas that haven’t been harvested and let this area have an opportunity to regenerate itself. That was just a thought of mine.
Is this in balance with nature right here? [points at satellite image of Haida Gwaii] That’s an ongoing discussion. It regenerates, it does, but does that mean we have to cut it every time it regenerates? Not necessarily, because there are other things that have a life within the forest that we use as Haidas. Not just Haidas, but fellow Islanders use the forest more than just for the extraction of wood.
Question: Is the Constitution available for people that want to read it?
Arnie Bellis: Yes, we have put it out.
Follow up question: Where would I be able to get a copy?
Arnie Bellis: Go to the CHN office. The Constitution is also out on the Treaty table which is a public table and we had it at the Land Use Forum.
Follow up comment: I wanted to include it in the article as a point of information for people that might not look at it themselves.
Question: You mention that the Constitution has been around for generations and generations and you also said that there may be some desire for parts of it to evolve and change. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on where you might see evolution happening in the Constitution or some things that you are facing that you can see evolving?
Arnie Bellis: Where I can see it evolving is underneath it. There are mounds of policy and procedure, internally we have to clarify and bring things to a finer tuned stage and that is going to happen because our people are very mindful of standards and process on that front. Where I think it will evolve from is the attitude around Lyell Island and on that is going to branch out. We’ve already seen parts of it a protocol agreement from Masset and Port Clements we’re already starting to see it. It’s not going to be an easy process.
Sometimes the scars of the not so immediate past put shadows on things, but over time that will evolve. This Constitution was built with full knowledge of small pox, residential schools and all these things that weren’t very pleasant but they still were strong enough to involve others on this Island. The word ‘others.’ I think you are going to see evolution in the development of the word ‘others’ and ‘co-exist.’ Do we have the capacity to do that as a Nation? To a certain degree we do. The oncoming generations may have more capacity in that area. I’m not saying we’re not motivated to do it but I think that we are living in a time where we have some very strong influences and one of them is our villages.
Our villages need to have basic needs covered first basic needs have to be addressed. That is part of the evolution, so that a person or persons with a family know that those needs are being met and then they can evolve into more community type forums and go there without being hungry. I’ve been saying for years that the best things that happen to Haidas are things that Haidas do themselves. The answers aren’t given to us in programs, those things help don’t get me wrong, but the fundamental efforts of Haidas to evolve happens with ourselves. We’re living in the shadow of some pretty horrendous things and we have to let that go, we do let that go constitutionally, on the individual case or in small groups there may be some issues but as a collective we’re talking about co-existing.
Other things in this Constitution are going to be subject to the immediate. Things like more clarity on how we make decisions internally and more accountability mechanisms. So I hope I answered your question.
The other thing for me is that it’s every small step at a time I learned this a long time ago, the hard way and that is, that in Old Massett and Skidegate there may be few people in the hall but the whole community is there. I’m not worried about the numbers in this room because the whole Island is here, it’s right in front of us, when people go outside and pick up the phone and talk tomorrow morning at coffee time, the Island is here, sitting right here. I learned that from elders in Massett. They said, Arnie, don’t worry about the size of the crowd, even if there is only one person, the whole village is going to know by midnight.
This conversation is starting with Islanders, there will be a day when this building will be too small to talk about this topic. I know it is one tiny step at a time, that’s how I look at it. I read some of the previous speakers’ material and what they spoke about and I will echo the same thing. Miles Richardson and Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson said, It’s not about exclusion, it’s not about that, it’s not about us and them. God knows we have lived in that long enough. It’s about how we come together and how we proceed in the future we proceed with principles.
When I was young I flew from North Island to Sandspit and what I saw was devastating. But I don’t for a second judge the working man because people have to look after their families. I know the horrendous things unemployment does to families. I see it every day and I live in it. I appreciate people who want to do different things in their lives, but I want to stay in the trenches and never leave the trenches because that’s where the debate is raging. It’s back and forth on the ground floor we call it ground zero.
When I flew over the Islands, I thought I was looking at a reflection of where my mind is. Am I looking at a reflection of everybody else’s mind as well, not just mine?
I can’t stand up and say, No, you can’t work because of this or that. We have to address these issues through the Constitution through the Haida Constitution and the Canadian Constitution. The tools of governance have to address these things. It is not right to label people that merely want to look after their family. And it is not right to use them as pawns in a game.
What the BC government and industry were doing in Ottawa was hiding behind the workingman, that’s all they were doing. Big multi-national companies hiding behind the guy that gets up in the morning and all he wants to do is look after his family, as every human being should. And those companies are hiding behind them literally.
Port Clements said, You’re not hiding behind us any more. And they stepped up because they want to look after their own. The future is the land, the future is not the corporation. We all know that and we are learning that hard lesson now. Reflection is a key idea for me and with that the emerging of leadership of both the Haida and Islanders.
Question: I’m a newcomer to the Islands and this question comes out of my ignorance. I may be putting my foot in my mouth, but if a protocol agreement was signed between Masset and the Haida Nation and Port Clements and the Haida Nation why has nothing happened here in [Queen Charlotte City]?
Arnie Bellis: I will attempt to answer that. The reason, as I understand it, is Port and Masset are incorporated, for that reason only. In the south of the Islands, Queen Charlotte and Sandspit aren’t incorporated and from what I gather they’re saying is that they are very interested in signing but they don’t have the legal mechanism to do so. There is a management committee that has certain responsibilities and that management committee is restricted to those responsibilities. It played out in the Observer a week ago, Carol Kulesha [QCC] and Gail Henry [Sandspit] made statements and what I would like to say to them is the door is open, the door is never closed. However the town of Queen Charlotte wants to represent themselves that’s up to them. Does that mean they have to be incorporated to sign? Not necessarily to my way of thought.
Follow up question: Could that be in something like a petition?
Arnie Bellis: Could be. But what that will do is instantly cause a debate within Charlotte. I’ve spent summers down here and I spend time down here and I have some very dear friends here, very dear friends Albert Myshrall and other old timers. Maybe that debate needs to happen. Does Sandspit have to be incorporated, in my mind not necessarily, does Charlotte have to be incorporated to sit at the table? No. The door is open, the door is always open from the Haida perspective. Like I said, does incorporation make it binding for me or the CHN? Not necessarily, but I would encourage people of these areas to look hard at the protocol and to discuss amongst themselves how they would move forward. Perhaps drop the incorporation component of it it could be a petition. I believe your idea is a thought in the right direction in trying to find a vehicle. I trust that people will find a solution of how they are going to come together and sign this protocol.
Follow up question: It looks now as if the QC Management Committee is against it by not doing it, it appears that a very big community is not part of it.
Arnie Bellis: That is the perception, and I understand that.
Comment: I think it is partly because if we are incorporated, small business people like me, believe it will be more expensive for land taxes and property taxes and more bylaws
Arnie Bellis: But with those taxes there has to be a standard of service provided to you too, it isn’t just paying in, it’s receiving something in kind back. Those standards have to be there and there is an obligation to meet those standards if the town is incorporated. To be honest with you, I grew up in Masset, and some days incorporation is not the way I would like to go too but that’s the way it is.
Where I feel that, not to say this is fear mongering, is on the question of the hospital. I was on the [Old Massett] Village Council for the last two years and I said, Look at the last twenty years, what happened? All we did was fight over a hospital. What happened in Charlotte? Did their level of service increase or decrease? Decrease. What happened in Masset? It just decreased, it went backwards while we’re fighting each other. I wasn’t part of that but I saw it being played out in the newspaper. I said, Why don’t we just say we’re going to do this because we’re organized. Get the councils along Masset Inlet Port Clements, New Masset and Old Massett and just simply say this is what we are doing. If Charlotte wants to do the same thing wish them the best and if there is anything we can do to help them with their goals let us know. Use this approach instead of worrying about this and that. As I said earlier, the extraction of our resources and our financial contribution to the province is not reciprocal. Instead of being against it I support Charlotte in what they want to do. If they get a hospital, good for them. Why should we wish that people have bad medical service, that’s crazy. We should be supporting them. From my history on this Island I’ve got a lot of very dear friends down here and why would I want to wish them ill.
John Farrell: Thank you Arnie. Being that I am a wise man I am going to see if April would like to add any last words.
April Churchill: I want to thank everybody for coming out for your interest and I want to put forward a challenge. I would like you to read the Haida Constitution and when you see one of the representatives or you want to sit and talk about it or ask questions or you have ideas, that you take the courageous step forward and ask the question. We may get into debate, and you may not agree, but in that debate we share pieces of each other and we come to understand each other. Your commitment in taking a courageous step with us will help us evolve a Constitution that works for all of us. I thank you very much for being here.
John Broadhead: I want to formally thank you on behalf of everybody that is here tonight and Gowgaia Institute. Your words, the warmth, the heartfelt sharing of your views opened peoples eyes and hearts it is everything we have always wanted the Speaker’s Series to be. It’s been a very good last evening. Thank you.