All That We Say Is Ours : Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2010-02-23
  • Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre
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Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is the Galapagos of the north. Famous for their wild beauty, the islands are also the ancient homeland of the Haida Nation. Integral to Haida culture is the relationship to the land, and the Haidas have spent many years trying to protect and recover control of it. Under the leadership of Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw, the visionary artist, drummer, and orator, the Haida blockaded loggers, joined forces with environmentalists, lobbied political leaders, and in 2004 filed suit against the Canadian government, laying claim to their entire traditional territory. Ian Gill captures the excitement of the Haida struggle and their passion for their culture. He also reveals the making of an artist and political activist: Guujaaw's audacity, eloquence, tactical skills, and deep knowledge of his homeland place him at the heart of this riveting story, and this book reveals his extraordinary role in it.

Author Biography

Ian Gill is president of Ecotrust Canada, a non-profit organization that combines conservation with community economic development. He is also an award-winning documentary reporter and the author of Hiking on the Edge and Haida Gwaii: Journeys through the Queen Charlotte Islands. Ian Gill lives in Vancouver, BC.

Table of Contents

Then and Nowp. 1
Land Troublesp. 16
The Spirit Rushes in the Bloodp. 42
Out of Handp. 65
Drump. 84
The Same as Everyone Elsep. 98
They Sayp. 124
Pushing Backp. 150
This Box of Treasuresp. 165
A Recognizable Culturep. 182
How the World Gets Savedp. 206
Yes, We Canp. 224
What Is to Comep. 243
Chronology of Eventsp. 255
Notesp. 261
Selected Bibliographyp. 297
Acknowledgementsp. 305
Indexp. 309
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


From Chapter 7, They Say

The elders. On a cold miserable grey day, they had come — Ethel Jones, Watson Pryce, Ada Yovanovich, Adolphus Marks, then in their 60s and 70s, faces etched with the experiences of a century that had been cruel to their people and their land — stepping slightly unsteadily out of the helicopter and, in their own quiet way, taking charge of the blockade. “Blockades are interesting,” writes Ted Chamberlin in If This is Your Land, Where are Your Stories? “They function like the threshold of a church, or the beginning of a story; and they need to be acknowledged if proper respect is to be paid to those for whom the place is sacred or appropriate contempt shown to those who are polluting it.” In coming to Athlii Gwaii, to the threshold of the blockade that the Haida had constructed, the elders consecrated their protest. Guujaaw had spent his youth learning from the elders, recognizing their authority, and most of all, listening. In turn, as Guujaaw and an increasing number of younger Haida had put protection of the land on the top of the political agenda on Haida Gwaii, the elders had listened — and by coming to the blockade, they were recognizing Guujaaw, Miles and the other young leaders, and validating their stand. Miles Richardson: “They basically told us, we’ve heard what you have to say. We’ve been silent about this most of our lives. We’ve wanted to make this stand, and today" — Richardson fights back tears when he recalls what the elders said that day — “and today, we ask you to respect that.” The elders came to assert their right not just to support the blockade, but to become its front line — to take charge of the rituals and administer the sacrament. The warriors were asked to melt away to the sidelines, to quiet their bravado in favor of the gentle but persuasive voices of the elders.

Film footage from the blockade captures their determination. Ethel Jones says: “This is our land and you know, we definitely aren’t afraid of going to jail. Maybe that’ll open our government’s eyes. Look at this little old lady sitting in jail. For what? For protecting their land? We’ve slept long enough.”

Ada Yovanovich: “We’re here to protect our land, and if that’s a crime, I’m willing to go … I’m over 60. It doesn’t really matter as long as I have some fancywork to do. No, I don’t mind at all.”

Adolphus Mark: “Well I’m here to support my younger generation that’s here now. And we have good reason to be here. When you ride around and you see the mountains all gone, all the trees stripped clean and it’s not only for us, but for white man’s generation to come, too. What are they going to make money from when you’ve stripped the islands?” And in an echo of his ancestors seventy years earlier in front of the McKenna-McBride Commission, Aldophus Marks says, “We’re protecting our island. It’s our island, before white man come only 200 years ago. And how come the government want to make a claim on it, I want to know if the government made this island, or the good Lord? I’d like an answer to that … Did the government make this island, now they claim it? We’re fighting for our rights … the government didn’t make this island, no way.”

As Guujaaw puts it, “The elders clearly represented our linkage to all our history. These are people who had a lot of living behind them and were not just a radical fringe element going out to raise heck with the government for the sake of doing that.” Diane Brown is Ada Yovanovich’s daughter and is related to Guujaaw via an adopted mother, who was Guujaaw’s grandmother’s sister. She was one of the few younger women on the line at Lyell Island, and she remembers the importance of the elders joining the blockade. “They brought dignity to what we were doing. They brought validation, they brought history, and they brought the future.”

Watson Pryce hoped that, with elders showing up and getting arrested first, “it might do the trick. But it didn’t work right away. Lots of others had to block the road before they could stop it altogether.” Over the course of several weeks, seventy-two people were arrested on Lyell Island, Guujaaw, Miles Richardson and Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas among them. But the elders went first. Ethel Jones was led away. Then Ada Yovanovich, reading from the Bible (2 Timothy, v.7) – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course” — and Watson Pryce and Adolphus Mark. As Pryce was to discover, four elders getting arrested — an event broadcast on national television — wasn’t enough, so the warriors got their day too. Or rather, their days. A ritual was established, something that has come to happen with increasing frequency in Canada in confrontations between developers and environmentalists, industry and Indians. An early morning, workers on the road, protesters blocking their way, a single process server, RCMP officers, sometimes cameras, sometimes not — and just enough arrests for everyone to leave the scene feeling they’ve accomplished something. On Lyell Island, for almost one month, the process server was there most mornings, offering up injunction papers that fell to the ground when protesters refused to take them, papers that were then used to fan the protest fire. “Got any more?” someone joked at one point when their fire was dying and there weren’t enough court papers to fuel it.

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