Taking a stand, from seafloor to mountain peak

In 1985 I was 15 years old growing up in BC’s interior, and it was around that time that I first noticed the use of the term “stand” to refer to a forest – as in “a stand of timber.”   Something was missed with that term.  Surely forests have more value than as potential fiber product?
In November of 1985, a different type of stand took place.  Seventy-two members of the Haida Nation were arrested for obstructing access to a logging operation on Lyell Island, in the Haida Gwaii archipelago.  They were protesting for their right to manage their land, and specifically to oppose the logging taking place.  This was called “the Lyell Island Standoff.”

(c) Mike Ambach
The logging practices at the time were severely impacting the coastal ecosystem, wiping out salmon spawning streams and gradually eroding the complex living connections between water and land.   The value of the forest, in other words, was measured by the value of the wood on the market.  As a stand. There was little effort made to measure the value of anything else the forest did.
Fast forward 25 years.  On November 13, over 1,000 community members and invited guests, of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal ancestry, gathered in the Skidegate community hall and took part in a day-long feast and celebration to commemorate the Lyell Island standoff, and celebrate the progress since made.
(c) Mike Ambach/WWF-Canada
You see, the Haida won the day back in 1985!  The standoff was pivotal to the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve a year later.  Gwaii Haanas has evolved over the years to become one of the most innovative co-management models in the world.   Today upwards to 50 percent of Haida Gwaii is under some form of protection, and non-reserve areas are managed to an increasingly high standard of practice.  This year also marked the creation of the marine portion of the Park – Canada’s first National Marine Conservation Area.   WWF-Canada has been working in the region for the past 2 decades to support better management and protection.  This work continues.
But more importantly, the events on Lyell 25 years ago marked a step forward in the recognition of Aboriginal Rights and set in motion a new arrangement for how the environment of the islands would be valued.  Forests are not simply “stands” and oceans are not simply pools for fish stocks.  They are valued for their role in supporting a culture and lifestyle, for their biodiversity, as a draw for tourism, for their beauty and spiritual value as well.   The adage that “everything in nature is connected” has become cliché, but from seafloor to mountain peak, Gwaii Haanas walks the talk.
The point was eloquently made by the many speakers at the feast and by the dance troupes and other performers.  Check out the short film by Joeseph Crawford, a Parks summer student, which was aired at the Parks centre on the Friday before the celebration.
(c) Mike Ambach/WWF-Canada
It was a privilege for me to present plaques from WWF-Canada recognizing Gwaii Haanas Marine – the latest legacy of Lyell – to the key parties involved.  While conservation gains like Gwaii Haanas are tremendous steps of success, the real story is about the leadership and courage of the Haida who “held the line” in 1985.  Through their actions, they made it possible for so many others to begin measuring what really counts.