Haida Title: CHN President Gaagwiis Jason Alsop Speaks at the BC Legislative Assembly

On April 22, 2024, Gaagwiis Jason Alsop, President of the Council of Haida Nation, spoke before the BC Legislative Assembly, as the Haida Nation Recognition Amendment Act, 2024, was introduced, recognizing the Haida Nation’s Aboriginal title to Haida Gwaii. This is Gaagwiis’ full speech to all who had gathered that historic day, including Haida Elders, past presidents and hereditary leaders.

“Good people, members of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Speaker, special guests, our Haida delegation, other Indigenous leaders who’ve joined us, and all the people of BC, it is an honour to be in the House today to speak to this work in the recognition of Haida title. I’d also like to say [speaks in X̱aayda Kil] to acknowledge Elder Marianne Thomas for the beautiful opening and the welcome to carry out our business on the territory of the Songhees, Esquimalt and Lekwungen-speaking people. It’s an honour to be here, to be part of this — making history here today.

I don’t want to get dragged into basketball talk, but I see member Ross play as a fierce point guard, but I think the Premier could swat a few of his shots. I also want to just say [speaks in X̱aayda Kil] to our singers and our Elders for opening us in a good way and bringing our ancestors, our Kunisi, into the House with us for this important work. It feels good in here. The energy is good.

I could feel our ancestors, our Kunisi, with us, as many have mentioned. Many who spend time in this area, many who perished during the smallpox epidemics and many of those who came before us have been part of this journey of getting to this point. It is a journey that we’re all on together. It’s a journey of truth, reconciliation, healing, epidemics, and many of those who came before us have been part of this journey of getting to this point. And it is a journey that we’re all on together. It’s a journey of truth, reconciliation, healing, hope and renewal for the Haida Nation, for Haida Gwaii, for British Columbia, for Canada.

A lot of ground was already covered here today. Everybody is quite well trained in the history and what led us here today. But I’m here today as the elected president of the Haida Nation, with our delegation of hereditary chiefs, elected leaders, past leaders, Haida citizens, allies of the Haida Nation who have stood with us to encourage you all to support this bill, as the leaders of British Columbia in unity as one, to support what is right. That’s what we’re here for today.

Many speakers have already addressed the truth. The truth is what is the foundation of this work and why we’re here. Today and what is to come here is about honouring and recognizing the truth of Haida history and our relationship with Haida Gwaii — our deep and ancient relationship with Haida Gwaii — and the truth about British Columbia and its history with Haida Nation and Haida Gwaii.

This act and this work is an acknowledgment of the past denials and the harms and fully embracing this truth that we all know Haida Gwaii is Haida land, has always been and will always be, and that we had never ceded, surrendered, or in any way, given up our title to the land, that our people have asserted our sovereignty against the threats to Haida Gwaii, against colonial occupation, since the very beginning of the Crown trying to assert their sovereignty upon us, to great sacrifice of many who put themselves on the line and risk themselves and their families.

Today, after over 150 years of British Columbia trying to impose itself over our lands and people, we stand before you today, together, committed to a future rooted in Haida history, culture and values in upholding our inherent right and responsibility to care-take for Haida Gwaii and all the realms of interconnected existence within Haida culture: the supernatural beings, all the beings of the forest, all the beings of the sea, humans and that we all are interconnected. We all rely on each other. We all are one.

So today is a very important day. It’s a historic day, because today, BC upholds the foundation of Haida law, yahguudang — respect. By introducing this provincial legislation, recognizing Haida title to all the land of Haida Gwaii, and all that comes with it, is an act of respect of yahguudang, of that truth. The Haida Nation respects our friends and neighbours, the people of Haida Gwaii, who now call Haida Gwaii home in upholding our commitments to each other, in honouring our protocol agreements to maintain their homes and private property interests, to maintain their communities and to be part of designing a better and more sustainable future for Haida Gwaii now and for the generations to come.

I want to acknowledge all of our allies and good people who have stood with us over the years. As many have mentioned, in the Haida case, the mayor of Port Clements, Dale Lore, stood with us and acknowledged that the future for his community and his people would be better vested in the Haida in looking after their interests. It was quite an experience as we were sharing about this agreement and the work, visiting all of the communities on Haida Gwaii — overwhelming support from the settlers, the people who call Haida Gwaii home, in recognizing Haida title and standing with us and seeing a better future with recognition of title in all areas of our lives.

In our long and ancient history on Haida Gwaii…. This dark chapter with BC is an extremely short time in this long history. It was a very damaging time to the land, the resources. The wealth that was taken…. That was spoken of, you know, this equation of the wealth leaving Haida Gwaii to come to provincial government coffers, to corporate interest. That is the work we’ve committed to going forward: looking at all of that. How do we work together in designing that future for the betterment of the islands community?

Today we begin creating a new history, a new story in our narrative and our relationship with Haida Gwaii and the people of Haida Gwaii. And we complete a part of the work of our ancestors and past leaders and honour their sacrifices — many people who have passed on, many people who have given everything over the years, and many people who are still with us that never thought they would live to see this day in their lifetime.

So the respect, the truth is recognized here today with the Crown, in recognizing that Haida Gwaii is Haida land. But with this truth also comes bringing hope in that this rising tide will lift all canoes — Haida, B.C., Canada, all Indigenous nations and people — hope in a future that recognizes the deeply rooted history of the Haida people with thousands of years of experience in looking after Haida Gwaii and interacting with Haida Gwaii and all the beings.

Hope to learn from the mistakes of this colonial experience together and to draw upon Haida culture and values to heal, to make things right, and take the best of what we all have to offer from our collective experience — collective experiences as people, at a human level, collective experiences as government — and collaborate and move forward in realizing this opportunity before us to design our coexistence based on this mutual respect and for healing of the people and the land.

It’s very fitting that today, April 22, this legislation is brought forward, on Earth Day, as together we face the climate crisis. We can only tackle this crisis working together. You know, wildfires, floods, sea level rise, ocean temperature rising, extreme weather events, seeing the whales getting upset, supernatural beings acting out. These supernatural forces are telling us that now is the time for change before it is too late. We can’t wait. We can’t wait to question what little parts of the future look like.

There is faith. This is good faith. There’s a leap of faith that as people we can work together and figure these things out. Now, more than ever, our concerns and priorities are more aligned to better manage forests, to protect wild salmon, to manage land and sea ecosystems as one, to reduce carbon emissions, to combat systemic racism, and to provide opportunities for families and communities to be self-sufficient and resilient in the face of this change and this crisis.

We can do this together. We can do this working together. The way we’ve designed this agreement creates those conditions.

I also want to acknowledge, when we’re looking at this, this is a complex challenge that we’ve all had to face: recognizing title. What does it look like going forward? Of course, there are a lot of unanswered questions. There are over 150 years of colonization. It’s going to take time to undo some of the harms, the things that aren’t good, look at the things that are good.

In our way, in trying to find answers for the future, we look back to the past. We look to our teachings, to our ancestors. One of the statements or teachings that guides us is a statement that was made by Chief Louis Collinson, and it was partially referenced. It’s really profound in what we’re facing today. He said:

People are like trees, and groups of people are like forests. While the forests are composed of many different kinds of trees, these trees intertwine their roots so strongly that it is impossible for the strongest winds that blow on our islands to uproot the forest. For each tree strengthens its neighbour, and their roots are inextricably entwined. In the same way, the people of our islands, composed of members of Nations and races from all over the world, are beginning to intertwine their roots so strongly that no troubles will affect them. Just as one tree standing alone would soon be destroyed by the first strong wind which came along, so is it impossible for any person, any family or any community to stand alone against the troubles of the world.

And the reality is we can’t go back and alter history. We’re all here to stay. We’re all in this together. Our Haida roots run deep. Others are shallow. But with this bill, we can face the truth head-on and instill hope that we can face the troubles of this world together based on respect and not fear, that we can heal our relationships with each other and the land and the waters, that we can change our behaviours as humans, change the systems that are harming this earth and each other, and have hope, that as a result of our collective efforts, that these supernatural forces would take some pity on us.

I’d like to acknowledge this House. I’d like to acknowledge past leadership, Premier Campbell and his government, for laying a foundation. I’d really like to hold my hands up and acknowledge Premier Eby, Minister Rankin for their leadership and this government for having the courage to move this work forward and uphold the honour of the Crown.

I’d encourage each and every one of you, in this House, to support this bill together as good people, that each and every one of you look deep within. Examine your own history, your own relationship with colonization, with your heritage, with your culture, where you’ve come from. To come to British Columbia, to Canada, which now is your home: what is your experience? Look deep within at that experience and find that place, whether it was in Hong Kong or India or Ireland or wherever it was that you’d come from. There are some things that need to be looked back on.

Find it within yourself to move forward, unanimously together, in passing this bill as good British Columbians, for the good of the province, as good Canadians.

In the spirit of this truth and reconciliation and hope, be part of making things right in this province and in this country.

Háw’aa. Thank you for listening.”

Find President Gaagwiis’ full speech and others shared on April 22, 2024, here.