British Columbia

'This is the unceded territory of the Haida': royal visit viewed as a meeting of equals

When Prince William and Kate visit Haida Gwaii today, they will be stepping into a unique cultural and political landscape.

'They’re royalty of the United Kingdom and they’re going to be meeting our royalty of the Haida Nation.'

Totems on Haida Gwaii. (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

When Prince William and Kate visit Haida Gwaii on Friday, they will be stepping into a unique cultural and political landscape.  

"We want to introduce them to our community, our culture, our way of life the best we can in their short visit," said Gaagwiis Jason Alsop, an elected representative with the Council of the Haida Nation.

"Also to really have the Duke and Duchess see us as their contemporaries and understand a little bit more of what Haida life is like and some of the challenges that we face as Indigenous people here in Canada."

Protected lands, sovereign people

The Haida Heritage Centre and Museum. (CBC)

Like many Indigenous nations within B.C., the Haida never signed a treaty with the Crown. As such, many Haida view themselves as an autonomous nation from both the Canadian government and the monarchy that Prince William and Kate represent. 

"Respectfully, I see myself as an individual within the Haida Nation. Here is where I was born. Here is where I was raised. Here is where I've learned about my culture," said Jisang Nika Collison, curator of the Haida Gwaii Museum, when asked about her relationship with the Crown.

"This is the unceded territory of the Haida, and we have built relationships with this country over the years."

Among the major accomplishments of the Council of the Haida Nation is the establishment of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, a protected archipelago of islands which is jointly managed by the government of Canada and the council.

The council also successfully pushed the B.C. government to change the name of the Queen Charlotte Islands to Haida Gwaii as part of a wider reconciliation agreement that brought even more decision-making power over the fate of the islands to the Haida people.

Royalty meets royalty

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sit together after being draped in traditional First Nation blankets during a welcoming ceremony at the Heiltsuk First Nation in the remote community of Bella Bella, B.C., on Monday, September 26, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Both Collison and Alsop said their number one goal was to be good hosts for the royal couple.

William and Kate will arrive in Skidegate the morning of September 30, where they will enter a traditional Haida canoe and paddle with members of the Skidegate Saints basketball team to the Haida Gwaii Museum and Cultural Centre.

They will take part in cultural activities, view works by local artists and go fishing with youth.

A view of sunset from Anthony Island at the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

"They're royalty of the United Kingdom, and they're going to be meeting our royalty of the Haida Nation, our hereditary leaders, our matriarchs," said Collison. "It's a beautiful thing. It's the beginning of a relationship."

Collison said she's already had success working with museums in the United Kingdom to repatriate art and even remains of the Haida people that were taken by the British in previous centuries. 

Carved mortuary and memorial poles mark a beach in the village of Ninstints in Haida Gwaii. (CBC)

She said she gets the sense that people in the U.K. are interested in being a part of the reconciliation process and believes that extends to the royal couple.

"Their country has a history of making a big difference in the world that many, of course, all of us were impacted by, but today we have a chance to make a big difference in the world that benefits everyone, and I believe that's where they [the royal couple] are," she said.

"I don't see myself as part of the Commonwealth, but I enjoy the prospect of working with them." 

A dolphin jumping off the coast of Haida Gwaii. (D. Gardiner, Parks Canada)

CBC will have coverage of the royal visit to Haida Gwaii. Carolina de Ryk will be hosting Daybreak North live from Jag's Beanstalk in Skidegate Friday morning from 6 to 9 a.m. PT.

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