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A rich sense of honor:  Learning from tribal leaders
Condensed by Native Village

British Columbia: In this world of climate, economic, and institutional collapse, what might happen if native people were in charge?

On Haida Gwaii, an island off British Columbia,
The Haida Nation is back in charge. They don’t just oversee a small parcel of reserved land. After two decades of battling Canada's government, the Haida is a sovereign nation who owns and co-manages the entire place.

Haida Gwaii consists of two main islands: Graham Island and Moresby Island, along with approximately 150 smaller islands. The  total landmass is 3,931 sq mi.

"Haida Gwaii" is pronounced in English as /ˈhdə ɡw/, HY-duh-GWEYE. It means "Islands of the People" in the Haida language.

On Haida Gwaii, an economy and way of life rooted in place is re-emerging and growing stronger in resource use, land and marine management.

The vast forests are no longer being auctioned off to industrial bidders who rapidly deplete the landscape.  Instead, the Haida are:

Harvesting their trees slowly;

Have certified their holdings under the Forest Stewardship Council;

Are supplying only high-end niche manufacturers like Martin guitars and Steinway pianos;

Are protecting cultural and environmental matters.


Only a few years ago, trophy bear hunts on tribal lands by non-native outfitters brought in much- needed money. Now on Haida Gwaii, the Haida people are:
Hosting ecotourists and sharing traditional ecological knowledge about the temperate rainforests;

Protecting the hot springs, staggeringly diverse marine life, endemic bears, and local salmon runs;

Haida artistry is now flourishing again on the island, supported by a new cultural center.

Non-native loggers and their families on Haida Gwaii have voiced support for the Haida Nation in Canada's Supreme Court.  They said they would rather entrust their future to the Haidas than international corporate giants or the provincial government.

“It makes sense to have people who depend on a place also manage its resources,” says Guujaaw, President of the Council of the Haida Nation. “Timber companies just don’t have to think about fish or the long term on the earth-- only this year’s bottom line.”

A native resurgence is taking place all along the western coast of Canada and the U.S. Alaska Natives, First Nations, and American Indian tribes are:
Practicing holistic land and resource management;

Advocating for the things we need, like clean water and healthy fish;

Refocusing on community health, family and personal wellbeing;

Positioning their communities and those around them for recovery and long-term health.

Many non-natives yearn for this sort of leadership, which is lacking in the U.S. and Canada.

“Maybe it’s not that we don’t fit in, it’s that they don’t fit in," said Jon Waterhouse from the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council. "The modern business model doesn’t work for everyone. And modern culture has lost its way.”

Native people are modeling these leadership practices beyond their borders.

“We have no choice,” said Gail Small, Northern Cheyenne. “We can do nothing by ourselves. We all need you, all of you, whatever race, whatever culture. We have to come together to protect what’s in jeopardy.”
Small and others are bringing their communities back from destitution, landlessness, and near extinction. They have done it by overcoming what Canada's Supreme Court calls an “impoverished sense of honour” by governments who don't recognize the historical sovereignty and rights of aboriginal people.

By insisting upon their inherent human and sovereign rights, native peoples are showing the way to a more resilient world.

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