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Haida title act gets royal assent

Haida First Nation now legally own all of Haida Gwaii.
Cause for celebration: Haida First Nation members at the BC Legislature April 22 for introduction of Haida title act.

An historic agreement recognizing aboriginal title over all of Haida Gwaii is now law.

The Haida Nation Recognition Amendment Act received royal assent Thursday afternoon, on the last day of the BC Legislative session.

The act recognizes the Haida Nation’s title over all of Haida Gwaii.

In a press release, the B.C. government noted that the new law is the first of its kind in Canadian history.

Aboriginal title has been recognized elsewhere in B.C. through treaties – the Nisga’a Treaty, for example – and in one case, the aboriginal title of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014.

The Haida Agreement is the first case in which a provincial government unilaterally agreed, outside the formal treaty process, to recognize title to the entire traditional territory of a First Nation.

"For the first time in Canadian history, Aboriginal title is being recognized and it's happening here in British Columbia," Premier David Eby said in a press release.

Haida Nation President Gaagwiis, Jason Alsop remarked on the agreement’s importance in terms of reconciliation with First Nations. The alternative was a lengthy court battle, as the Haida have been seeking recognition of rights and title through the courts.

"Negotiating the acknowledgement of Haida title with the province of B.C. not only marks a welcome departure from an adversarial court process, but also uplifts the (honour) of the Crown by resolving the issue through negotiation rather than litigation," he said in a government press release.

"That clarity of vision and purpose that was present at the negotiation table will further enable both governments to address the realities on the ground. Putting the question of title to rest enables us to embark on building a future with all the peoples of Haida Gwaii based on our relationship to the land and sea."

The legislation provides for a “staged transition” of Haida Gwaii to Haida jurisdiction.

“Over the next several years, the Council of the Haida Nation and the province will work together and negotiate how provincial and Haida Nation laws can work together,” the government said in its news release.

“Local governments, residents and others will have opportunities to have input in the discussions. Over the transition period, land and resource decisions will continue to be made through existing processes."

Legal experts and politicians have argued over the agreement’s impact on private lands, with some arguing that private fee simple lands are “legally incoherent” within aboriginal title, which is communal.

That question took up much of the debate when the Haida title act was being debated in the Legislative Assembly.

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