Imagine strangers conquering your home, abusing your environment and bringing fatal disease to your community. That’s what happened to the Haida people.
Living in the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, off the north coast of British Columbia, Canada, they are a group of indigenous natives thought to have dwelled there for at least 8,000 years. Sadly, the Haida society has experienced first-hand the collapse of their population and the subsequent take-over of their territories for quick extraction of forest resources.
But they have come back strong. Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to travel to the islands and meet the Haida people. Here, I learnt more about their story – past and present.
Historically, the Haida people managed their land responsibly; a seafaring nation, who respected the forests, only collecting small amounts of berries, cedar, spruce and hemlock for their houses and totem poles.
The Haida moved into two small villages, their islands were colonised and they became the targets of a brutal extraction of forest resources. The stripping of trees from the watersheds led to pollution of salmon-spawning areas and decimation of bird populations.
Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, there were many conflicts and clashes between the parties. But eventually, the Haida people organised themselves, and regained the rights to their land. They reconstituted their community and began managing the land sustainably.
FSC certification is one of the tools the Haida people now use to manage their land. It fits with their tradition of protecting the forests they use and suits the way they want to live. Inside the production forest there are areas of protected land, and half of the islands have been set aside as a World Heritage Site to completely protect large areas of the original forest.
From devastated and colonised to bursting with indigenous pride, the Haida people can finally again protect their age-old land. They even continue to develop and use their old symbols and carvings.
In June this year, a Supreme Court ruling was passed in Canada. The province had granted a commercial logging license on land considered by the indigenous Tsilhqot’in Nation to be part of their traditional territory. The ruling declared the Aboriginal title over the area requested should be granted; setting a new footing for the rights of indigenous people across Canada, and further afield.
Respecting the rights of these groups is crucial to managing forests effectively. FSC’s certification system honours indigenous rights – we’ve even set-up The Permanent Indigenous Peoples’ Committee (PIPC), working globally to advise our board on issues important to indigenous groups. That’s why so many indigenous peoples choose to work with FSC.
We’re currently in the process of testing how this can work even better in the new FSC standard for Canada. This new standard will ensure Canadian indigenous groups are informed of, and involved in, decisions about their land.
With FSC’s help, it’s hoped that indigenous people in Canada, and across the world, can better protect the land they own, while managing their forests responsibly.