June 30, 2015 4:53 pm

Heiltsuk and Haida nations finalize peace treaty

Lorena White, Heiltsuk Tribal Council member, and Harold Yeltatzie, Old Massett Village Council member, embrace after signing the peace treaty

Lorena White
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The Heiltsuk and Haida nations will finalize a historic peace treaty at a potlatch in Bella Bella today.

Both nations have worked closely together over the last number of years opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline and, most recently, to oppose commercial herring fishing in Heiltsuk waters.

The agreement is being coined a “treaty of peace, respect, and responsibility.”

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“[The treaty] will strengthen our political advocacy ties as we work on social and environmental justice together,” said Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation.

“We’re both marine people, people of the sea… our way of life needs to be balanced with how we live.”

The Heiltsuk and Haida are both island nations along B.C.’s west coast.

A history of conflict

The two nations historically had some territorial conflicts. One ancient village site in Haida Gwaii, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, still shows damage from a Heiltsuk raid. On Monday, chiefs met together and recalled the last conflict between the nations occurring in 1852, according to oral history.

Following a potlatch a few years later near McLoughlin Bay, however, the nations entered into an oral peace treaty in response to an influx of European explorers changing the nature of their relationship.

The signed treaty updates and formalizes terms of the agreement in writing.

Hereditary Haida leaders disembark at Bella Bella, B.C. Credit:

Council of the Haida Nation Facebook page

Today’s Treaty

The treaty was initially signed last September in Masset, Haida Gwaii where the Haida Nation hosted chiefs and members of the Heiltsuk Nation for a potlatch. Now, the Heiltsuk Nation is keeping to customary protocol by hosting a potlatch of their own in Bella Bella, inviting chiefs and members of the Haida Nation to finalize the agreement in Heiltsuk territory. This will allow all of the chiefs from the two nations to sign the document.

“Some of the Heiltsuk chiefs were too old to travel to Haida Gwaii,” said Kelly Brown, director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department.

“We [also] wanted Bella Bella to feel the significance of the treaty and the importance of the relationship with the Haida.”

In order to formalize the written agreement, signed Monday, it must be recognized at today’s potlatch.

“Everything has to take place in that cultural forum, in a big house setting, with all the chiefs and people, in order to formalize an agreement like this,” said Brown.

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