The Legacy of November 1995

Jags Brown is a bit of a Renaissance man. He’s a photographer, runner, storyteller, and co-owner of the popular coffee shop and local hangout Jags Beanstalk in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii. He’s also a guide, working for the company that took us into Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

At first Jags struck me as being rather quiet and reserved. But as time went along – especially once we arrived at Windy Bay on Lyell Island – stories started pouring out of him; stories that easily transported me back to the fall of 1995.

jags brown toronto star

Jags, photo courtesy of the Toronto Star.

It was in November of that year that a group of Haida formed a human chain across a major logging road, saying no to any further clear-cutting on the island. Jags, who took part in the stand-off, said it was a ‘line in the sand’ moment after more than a decade of frustrating negotiations, court cases, and land-use planning sessions that seemed to go nowhere.

Jags talked about the elders, who – dressed in their button blankets and regalia – took centre stage at the blockade. The younger folk begged them not to participate, but the elders insisted. They said they had been silent long enough. Those elders were among the first of 72 people arrested over the next couple of weeks by the local RCMP. As Jags talked, it brought back memories of the footage I had seen on The National.

Jags spoke of a young First Nations officer who was in tears after being forced to arrest his auntie and other relatives. Heartbreaking. Jags also showed us the long house that was built for the protesters. We had a chance to see the bunks where they slept and the large table where they ate and talked strategy. It felt like they had vacated the place just yesterday.

long house

Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Support for the Haida’s actions came from more than 150 organizations who wanted to see South Morseby Island protected. David Suzuki, then host of The Nature of Things, aired a piece about South Moresby that apparently got more letters and calls than any other episode. Former NDP Member of Parliament Svend Robinson came to the blockade. He was the only non-Haida arrested.

In the end, the stand-off was a turning point both in terms of the preservation of the area, and the recognition of Haida rights to the water and land. It led to the formation of Gwaii Haanas Reserve, co-managed by the Haida and Parks Canada. The reserve is apparently the only place on earth that is protected from mountain top to sea floor.

Twenty five years after the event, a totem pole was raised to celebrate the Haida victory. Jags was there that day, helping to raise the pole. As he talked about it with us, his face shone with pride…as well it should. It was the first totem pole to be placed in that area in 130 years!

Thanks Jags for bringing history alive in such a powerful way. Haw’aa. Hawsan dang hl kingsang.



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