The Haida Nation occupies the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, 100 kilometers west of the northern coast of British Columbia. Haida Gwaii’s one million hectares include Gwaii Haanas in the north (formerly Graham Island) and Moresby Island in the south, along with nearly 200 smaller islands that comprise of some of the richest marine and terrestrial environments on earth. Of the Haida Nation’s roughly 5,000 members, approximately 3,000 live on the islands, predominantly in Old Massett at the north end of Graham Island and in Skidegate at the south end of the island. A large number also live in Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
For thousands of years, the Haida have been sustained by the land and waters of their traditional territory. Over the past 50 years, economic activity has revolved primarily around intensive large-scale logging by non-Indigenous companies. During that time, the Haida have worked steadily to increase their role in decisions related to natural resources in their territory. Those efforts played a key role in two landmark Supreme Court of Canada decisions that have led to increased potential economic opportunities for nearly all First Nations across Canada.
Empowered by the legal recognition of their right to be consulted regarding natural resource projects on their traditional territory, the Haida created the Haida Enterprise Corporation (HaiCo) in 2009 to improve the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of the Haida people. Since then, HaiCo has created Haida-owned businesses in tourism, forestry and seafood processing and grown from a struggling startup to a stable operation with $22 million in assets and $35 million in annual sales. Most importantly, it continues to make great strides towards creating a diverse and sustainable economy on Haida Gwaii.
The Council of the Haida Nation (CHN)
While the Haida people have used the hemlock, cedar and Sitka spruce of their traditional territory for thousands of years, the greatest harvesters of timber on Haida Gwaii have been non-Indigenous companies who brought large scale logging to the islands in the 1960s.
By 1974, the Haida were increasingly concerned about logging permits being issued in Haida Gwaii and how clear cutting was affecting the old-growth forests and surrounding ecosystems. That year, a handful of people organized the Haida people into one political entity called the Council of the Haida Nation, with a vision and mandate to settle land claims. Over the past 30 years, CHN has become the Haida Nation’s national government, asserting the Nation’s sovereignty over Haida Gwaii, and enacting legislation and policy affecting many aspects of life on the islands.
In the face of planned expansion of logging on the islands in the 1980s, CHN designated Gwaii Haanas as a “Haida Heritage Site”, and worked with conservationists to draw international attention to the protection of their forests and their assertion of rights and title over their traditional territory.
Between 1987 and 1993, Canada and the Haida Nation negotiated the Gwaii Haanas Agreement, which committed both parties to the protection of Gwaii Haanas through the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve (the first National Park co-managed by a First Nation and the federal government). The agreement also formally recognized and protected Haida interests and cultural practices on their traditional territory.
In 2004, the Haida and all First Nations, assumed a greater role in decisions about economic development in their traditional territories when the Supreme Court of Canada issued precedent-setting decisions on two landmark cases led by the Haida. The Supreme Court’s key ruling was that, when it came to activities that could infringe upon claimed or proven Indigenous rights or title, the Crown and third parties had a duty to consult with First Nations.
Over the next three years, the Government of BC reduced Annual Allowable Cuts on Haida Gwaii, temporarily suspended logging in some areas and worked with the Council of the Haida Nation to develop a strategic land-use agreement (SLUA). In April 2007, a final SLUA was signed which ensured nearly half of the land base of Haida Gwaii was within protected areas, which were to be managed collaboratively by the Haida and the Province. In addition, the Province committed to an economic timber opportunity of at least 800,000 cubic metres per year, along with detailed forest planning incorporating Haida cultural and environmental priorities.
At the time, CHN President Guujaaw said, “After 50 years of intensive forestry without holistic planning, this land-use agreement now starts to bring cultural, environmental, and economic interests into balance. It provides a firm footing to take the next steps in reconciliation of our competing, yet coexisting, titles.”
Those “next steps in reconciliation” were embodied in the Reconciliation Protocol signed between the Haida Nation and the Province of BC two years later, in 2009.
The Reconciliation Protocol provided a foundation for Haida economic development through the creation of a joint Province/CHN Haida Gwaii Management Council to make shared decisions in specified key strategic areas for the management of natural resources. The Council included two representatives from the Province and two from the Haida Nation, plus a chairperson agreed to by both parties. Its goals were to create greater certainty in land use decisions and to replace time-consuming referral processes with a streamlined process that reduced complexity, red tape and the time needed for decisions.
The protocol also played a key role in establishing a sustainable forest industry for the Haida Nation by providing CHN with a forest tenure of 120,000 cubic metres, $3.2 million to support implementation of the protocol, and $10 million towards the acquisition of forest tenures on Haida Gwaii. With the financial support now in place, CHN set about creating a new corporate entity to manage its economic opportunity.
Haida Enterprises Corporation (HaiCo)
The Council of Haida Nation’s elected legislative body is the House of Assembly (HOA), which includes a president and vice president (who are elected by all Haida Citizens), and Regional Representatives from Skidegate (4), Massett (4), Prince Rupert (2) and Vancouver (2) (who are elected by Haida Citizens in those communities.) While the HOA is only held once a year, over four days each October, CHN representatives meet on a quarterly basis, and public meetings are hosted from time to time by CHN to give and receive information on specific issues.
With CHN about to receive a new forest tenure along with $10 million towards the acquisition of additional tenures, CHN set about separating business and politics by creating a new independent corporate entity, the Haida Enterprises Corporation (HaiCo), to manage, grow and govern Haida business enterprises.
HaiCo was incorporated in 2009 with the goal of developing a sustainable economy on Haida Gwaii and improving the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of the Haida People.
HaiCo goals include:
- generating revenue and provide meaningful employment and career opportunities for Haida People in the management of HaiCo and subsidiary businesses.
- providing responsible management practices that always consider the land, waters, life forms and the culture in all enterprises.
- developing Haida management and operational capacity to ensure well managed, profitable and integrated businesses.
- focusing on enterprises that are needed to produce a thriving, sustainable community that enhance the lives of people living on Haida Gwaii.
The relationship between HaiCo and CHN is governed by a Letter of Expectation, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of each party regarding performance expectations, policy issues and strategic priorities.
Among its key points are:
- CHN represents the Haida people as the sole HaiCo shareholder
- Accountability and responsibility for HaiCo operational management rests with the HaiCo Board
- HaiCo will prepare an annual operating/business plan for each of its enterprises, including an overall HaiCo business plan
- Profits from the HaiCo’s business activities will be remitted to the Treasury of the Haida Nation
- HaiCo will advertise all career and employment opportunities in a manner than reaches out to qualified Haida people
- HaiCo will provide financial and performance reports, strategic plans, annual financial results and an Annual Statement of Management Responsibility to the Haida people. These documents will be presented at the House of Assembly (HOA), published on HaiCo’s website and distributed through Haida newsletters and other vehicles.
With funding and a governance model in place, HaiCo created Taan Forest Limited Partnership to manage Haida logging interests on the islands and Taan Wood to manage value-added wood products.
In 2010, HaiCo began negotiations with Western Forest Products for the purchase of Tree Farm License 60 (TFL 60) and its associated infrastructure in Haida Gwaii. TFL 60 is the largest forest tenure on Haida Gwaii, covering more than 130,000 hectares on Graham, Moresby and Louise Islands. HaiCo put a deposit on the transaction and entered into an operating agreement allowing HaiCo to harvest timber.
Taan Forest has managed TFL 60 under the agreement since 2010, harvesting timber through a contractor, Edwards & Associates Logging. Haico completed the purchase of TFL 60 for $12.2 million in 2012, using the $10 million from the 2009 reconciliation agreement with the Province. Combined with its other forest tenure, Taan Forest currently has a combined allowable annual harvest of more than 440,000 cubic metres.
In the past, more than one million cubic metres was logged annually on Haida Gwaii, with most of the timber shipped off-island. Today, HaiCo has increased the sustainability of the islands’ forest industry by reducing the Annual Allowable Cut by more than half. It has also diversified its forest-related operations and job opportunities beyond harvesting through several different initiatives, including:
- lower grade second growth timber is exported to Asia
- Sitka spruce is custom-cut for guitar and piano manufacturers abroad
- a new joint venture pole-peeling operation with Skidegate Band Council processes cedar logs into utility poles
- an agreement to provide select cedar, hemlock, spruce, alder and pine to Abfam Enterprises in Port Clements has allowed the company to expand its operations
- timber is supplied to a joint venture sawmill with the Old Masset village council
- a small custom cutting program has started in Vancouver
- biomass opportunities are being explored to convert wood waste into energy
- opportunities are also being explored to Taan Forest’s role in timber harvesting and manufacturing on Haida Gwaii
To ensure more members derive benefits from its forestry assets, HaiCo is also training more young members in felling and machine operation.
As a result of its increased focus on sustainable forestry practices, all of Taan Forest’s operations and product supply chains were recently FSC certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The global, not-for-profit organization grants its forest industry leading certification to companies whose products come from responsibly managed forests that are evaluated to FSC strict environmental and social standards. By market and selling its wood products with the FSC label, Taan Forest is finding a growing market in places like Europe where sustainably certified wood products are increasingly in demand.
HaiCo’s entry into the tourism industry began in 2010 with its purchase of the Tlell River House, a seasonal bear hunting lodge that was built in the 1980s. The CHN had called for an end to the recreational trophy hunting of Black Bears back in 1995. When the Haida Nation succeeded in retiring the last remaining bear hunting license, it purchased the lodge and renamed it the Haida House at Tllaal. Today, Haida House offers a wide variety of cultural tourism packages through which guests can experience Haida Gwaii’s history, culture and natural beauty.
While Haida Gwaii has been home to some of the world’s most renowned sport fishing lodges for decades, none of them were Haida-owned until 2011, when HaiCo purchased West Coast Resorts (WCR) out of receivership. West Coast Resorts operates two luxury fishing lodges on Haida Gwai, along with two more on BC’s central coast, and a fifth located in Kyuquot Sound on Vancouver Island. The company also manages the Inn at Sandspit.
Combined, the five lodges host 3,700 guests per year. With three and four night stays ranging from $3,700 to $5,600, the company revenue is approximately $15 million per year. At peak operations the company employs more than 150 people, including dozens of seasonal jobs for Haida, Gitga’at and other coastal First Nations. While profit margins are small in the sport fishing industry, HaiCo has managed to turn WCR’s finances around and turned a profit in 2012.
In 2012, HaiCo also entered the seafood processing industry, through its acquisition of Seapak QCI Processing Limited. From its modern facility in Massett, the company provides custom seafood smoking and processing for the sports fishing industry, as well as locals and visitors. It also sells fresh and frozen salmon, smoked salmon, halibut, razor clams, cod, crab, shrimp and prawns from wild sources to the local retail market.
Now known as Haida Seapak, the company has several contracts for processing salmon and groundfish for fishing lodges in Haida Gwaii. Through Haico’s acquisition of West Coast Resorts, it now has an opportunity to expand its business by providing its processing services and a wide range of seafood products to guests at HaiCo’s new WCR lodges, as well as the Inn at Sandspit and Haida House at Tllaal.
Having expanded into the forest, tourism and seafood processing industries, Haico is now exploring opportunities in the energy sector. With Haida Gwaii not connected to BC Hydro’s electric grid, island residents rely on diesel generators for their power. While Haida Gwaii has tremendous potential for offshore wind power, in 2011, Haida Nation members overwhelmingly rejected a proposed business partnership to build an offshore wind farm in Hecate Strait due to environmental concerns.
One potential way for Haida Gwaii to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels is through the use wood waste, also known as biomass. Through its forest harvesting and manufacturing operations, HaiCo generates a tremendous amount of wood waste, which could be converted to energy through gasification or combustion.
In 2012, Haico was one of 26 proponents to submit a proposal to BC Hydro’s Request for Expressions of Interest for clean electricity projects on the north grid of Haida Gwaii. BC Hydro has stated it will consult with stakeholders and First Nations before any process is initiated. If selected, the HaiCo proposal would create 10 to 12 new, permanent, full-time Haida Gwaii jobs and would generate $20 million net revenue over the next 20 years.