The COVID-19 pandemic presents a substantial stress and threat to citizens worldwide. Remote communities face special challenges with limited resources, and Indigenous communities have been especially triggered with historical traumas, while also carrying the responsibility to protect vulnerable Elders and cultural knowledge holders. The risk that COVID-19 poses has been especially acute to nations healing from these histories of genocide.
The COVID-19 virus moves wherever people move, and that led to many discussions and hard decisions during the 2020 spring and summer months. The Haida Gwaii State of Emergency (SOE) was declared under Haida authority and the Constitution of the Haida Nation. The SOE and emergency protocols were put in place to protect Haida citizens, language, culture, and all Island communities.
The same as BC’s emergency response, Haida Gwaii declared a SOE and defined “essential services” for the Islands’ communities. The following provides a chronology of events leading up to the Haida Gwaii State of Emergency and the resulting conflict with some of the sport fishing lodges operating in Haida Territories.
March 11, 2020
The World Health Organizations declares the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic.
March 12, 2020
CHN, Old Massett Village Council and the Skidegate Band Council issue a public notice recommending that Island citizens avoid unnecessary travel off-Island.
March 17, 2020
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Haida Heritage Site and National Marine Conservation Area closes to all leisure travel.
March 23, 2020
Local municipalities, Village Councils and the CHN declare a SOE for Haida Gwaii. Residents are encouraged to “stay home, save lives” and many businesses and public spaces close. Local airlines suspend all flights. Island residents are encouraged to travel only for essential purposes. Island communities work together to organize checkpoints for arriving BC Ferries sailings to provide information for community safety and deter leisure travel to Haida Gwaii.
April 6, 2020
Eighteen north and central coast communities – both Indigenous and civic – write a letter to Premier Horgan calling for support with travel restrictions. Along with the letter, President Gaagwiis Jason Alsop said, “Together with a unified voice and urgent purpose, leaders from across Haida Gwaii and the North and Central coast have attempted to work with the Province and Canada to join us in restricting non-essential travel to our communities. To date, the province and Canada have failed to uphold their moral and social responsibility to enforce non-essential travel restrictions that would help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect our few remaining fluent Haida language speakers and traditional knowledge holders. The Haida Nation, working with our neighbours, will continue to explore every possible approach to limit non-essential travellers to Haida Gwaii at this time.”
April 24, 2020
The Haida Nation, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Kitasoo Xai’xais, and Wuikinuxv Nations write to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, requesting support to protect local and remote communities by restricting recreational fishing for non-residents in the Central and North coasts and Haida Gwaii during the COVID-19 pandemic.
April 30, 2020
Coastal Indigenous Nations and municipalities issue a press release, calling on BC and Canada to enact travel restrictions to remote communities. Following a checkpoint preventing non-residents from visiting Haida Gwaii on April 27, Dr Bonnie Henry was asked if communities can tell visitors they are not welcome. Dr Henry responded, “This is part, of course, of our relationship with First Nations communities and their self-government and self-determination and they do have the ability and authorities to make those decisions for their communities.”
May 2, 2020
The CHN, working with All-Islands COVID-19 response centers, released the Essential Work Permitting process. Anyone traveling to Haida Gwaii must be conducting essential work and must have an approved permit prior to arrival.
May 8, 2020
Tourism operators and sport fishing lodges assess viability and risks of a 2020 operating season. Out of concern and respect for the local community and the safety of their staff, some sport fishing lodges make the decision to close for the 2020 season, including: Peregrine Lodge in Needan Gawee Naden Harbour
, Langara Island Lodge, Queen Charlotte Safaris in K’il Kun Sandspit
, Sandspit Adventures, Escott Lodge and Naden Lodge in Masset.
Queen Charlotte Lodge, Langara Fishing Lodge and West Coast Fishing Club push their opening dates, hoping for a start in June or July.
May 18, 2020
In mid-May the province moves into Phase 2 of the Restart Plan allowing some businesses to reopen. Haida Gwaii leaders make the decision to move behind BC. It is decided that Haida Gwaii will ease emergency measures some three weeks after BC once the impacts of reopening are clearer.
June 2, 2020
The Haida Gwaii SOE is updated to reflect a cautious first step out of the initial SOE advising that everyone “shelter in place.” Island citizens can expand their social circles with care and caution. Businesses with required PPE and safe work procedures begin to reopen.
June 24, 2020
At the end of June, BC announces Phase 3 of its Restart Plan, with WorkSafe requirements and guidelines for businesses to reopen on a broader scale. This includes gradual reopening in the accommodation and tourism sector.
June 25, 2020
Dr Bonnie Henry states “There are a number of First Nations communities who have expressed that they are not ready to [open to visitors] and that their paramount focus right now is on protecting their communities and particularly their Elders in their communities and we are very supportive of that.”
June 26, 2020
Council of the Haida Nation sends letters to management of Langara Fishing Lodge, West Coast Fishing Club and Queen Charlotte Lodge (QCL) reiterating the ban on non-essential travel and outlining the risks to all local residents, the painful history of epidemics still affecting our people, the risks for on-Island healthcare capacity, and the fairness and consistency of policies applied to all tourism businesses operating in Haida Gwaii.
June 28, 2020
QCL’s Vice President of sales, Brian Clive, is quoted in the Haida Gwaii Observer saying that the company, “wants to be ‘good citizens of Haida Gwaii’” and states that the lodge will not open without support from the community.
July 3, 2020
Queen Charlotte Lodge provides a response to the CHN letter, stating that they intend to open to guests on July 10. CHN sends a prompt response reiterating the request for all tourism operators to remain closed. A number of local businesses including the Haida Gwaii Co-op, Inland Air and TLC Automotive Services refuse service to QCL respecting for the Haida Nation State of Emergency. Parks, protected areas and trails re-open for local use.
West Coast Fishing Club begins to reopen to guests.
July 4, 2020
CHN Executive hand-delivers a copy of the response letter to QCL’s management at the lodge in Needan Gawee and witness aggressive maneuvers from QCL staff and boats. Haida boats from HlGaagilda Skidegate and Gaw Tlagee Old Massett make daily food fishing trips to the Needan Gawee area.
July 5, 2020
In a public statement on its website, QCL says, “Queen Charlotte Lodge has told the CHN that we will respect all laws on operating its business safely. If the CHN truly believes we would be breaking a law in re-opening, we have asked them to inform us exactly what law that is, and we will discuss it with our legal counsel and respond appropriately. We will reopen on July 10th and the CHN has been previously informed of that.”
July 6, 2020
CHN writes to the Provincial Health Officer and Chief Medical Officer regarding the Haida Gwaii SOE and concerns about mixed messaging regarding non-resident travel and conflicting jurisdiction. The letter states that some sport fishing lodges intend to open for the 2020 season in accordance with BC’s Restart Plan, and that breaches Haida authority and the Haida Gwaii SOE. CHN expresses great concern over non-resident travel and Haida Gwaii’s restrictions must apply fairly to all people and businesses.
July 7, 2020
CHN communicates with one of the transport providers slated to bring guests to Needan Gawee, clarifying that Haida Gwaii remains in a state of emergency. It is requested that all non-essential visitor traffic is refused until further notice.
July 9, 2020
Haida women, matriarchs and allies, Gaandlee Guu Jaalang Daughters of the Rivers, set up a camp at the villages of Káng ‘Lngee and Sk’áaws, creating a space to safely teach harvesting and land-based skills to jáadaa women from all communities on Haida Gwaii.
July 21, 2020
After actions of harassment by QCL staff, the Haida Hereditary Chiefs Council releases a statement pointing to QCL’s disregard for the environment and disrespect of the land, and stating that QCL is no longer welcome on Haida Territory.
July 22, 2020
Gaandlee Guu Jaalang release an uncut video of QCL vessels engaging in unsafe boating practices. North Arm notifies QCL that they are unable to deliver fuel to the lodge due to the Haida Gwaii State of Emergency.
July 24, 2020
A COVID-19 outbreak is declared on Haida Gwaii. BC releases a provincial order supporting Haida Gwaii’s non-resident travel restrictions for the duration of the outbreak.
August 3, 2020
QCL and West Coast Fishing Club close down and send lodge staff and guests home.
August 11, 2020
QCL President, Paul Clough, is quoted in media decrying lodge operations ceasing due to the outbreak. Mr Clough says, “We own our land here, and by being a landowner you should have certain rights yourself.”
August 13, 2020
A Haida Nation flag is found desecrated in the vacant Gaandlee Guu Jaalang camp in Needan Gawee. CHN launches an investigation and calls for anyone with information to contact the Haida Nation.
October 1, 2020
QCL applies to have staff return to the lodge as essential workers. Staff are issued approvals through the Essential Work Permit process to return to the site, to close down for the 2020 season and prepare for winter. Committed to upholding the Hereditary Chiefs’ statement that QCL has lost its welcome on Haida Gwaii, CHN explores all options.
October 28, 2020
Representatives of the CHN, Village Councils, and Hereditary Chiefs Council are invited for a site tour of QCL, by QCL President Paul Clough and management to view the property and assets.
CHN and Haida leadership continue to assess all of the options available to address the Haida Nation’s concerns with sportfishing lodges and with QCL as a company for 2021 and beyond.
Haida Gwaii SOE remains in place, only essential and resident travel is permitted. Essential worker permits are issued by the CHN.
This article is published in the recent Winter Haida Laas. View or download the full edition here.