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Saving Gwaii Haanas, the "Islands of Beauty"

For the week of Monday July 11, 2011

On July 11, 1987, the governments of Canada and British Columbia signed the South Moresby Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.), a mutual understanding that led, a year later, to the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. The understanding was negotiated amidst controversy surrounding the use and ownership of southern Moresby Island, located off the coast of British Columbia. This area is also known as Gwaii Haanas (meaning “islands of beauty” in the Haida language) by the Haida peoples who have traditionally inhabited them for centuries.

Stream near Hutton Inlet
© Parks Canada / W. Lynch
Since the 1970s, use of the area was hotly debated. Loggers wanted to clear the region of its ancient trees, while conservationists and the Haida nation feared the devastating effects of logging on the ecosystem. Tensions over land use escalated. In 1985, members of the Haida nation designated the area as a heritage site and were successful in protecting the region by barricading one of the logging access roads. Two years later, the M.O.U. was signed, and the creation of the national park reserve followed in 1988.

Despite the creation of the park reserve, the issues of land ownership remained controversial, as the Haida nation was negotiating land claims with the federal government. Despite these disputes, the Council of the Haida Nation and the federal government signed the Gwaii Haanas Agreement in 1993, in order to co-operatively manage the national park reserve and heritage site and to ensure the area’s protection. 

Starfish and sea urchin
© Parks Canada / R. Beardmore

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site commemorates the more than ten thousand years of Haida connection with the land and sea. Home to many different types of animals and vegetation that thrive in a coastal rainforest environment, it also represents the rich ecology and rugged beauty of the Pacific Coast.

Several Haida villages in the area have been designated as national historic sites, including Nan Sdins Llnagaay National Historic Site in 1981 and K’uuna Llnagaay (Skedans) and T’anuu ‘Ilnagaay (Tanu) National Historic Sites in 1986. SGaang Gwaay (the island where Nan Sdins Llnagaay is situated) was recognized by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee as a World Heritage Site in 1981. In 2010, Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site was created, making it the first area in the world to be protected from sea floor to mountain top.

For more information on Gwaii Haanas, please read Gwaii Haanas Agreement from our This Week in History archives and visit the sections of the Parks Canada website dedicated to the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, as well as the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. To find out more about the UNESCO designation, please consult the entry for the village on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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