Haida matriarchs will "occupy" ancient village sites in Haida Gwaii to protect the Haida Nation from the COVID-19 pandemic, a July 9 statement announced.
Haida women under the name Gaandlee Guu Jaalang (Daughters of the Rivers) "are upholding Haida law through the occupation of two ancient villages, Kung and Sk'aawats", the statement said.
“Two luxury sport fishing resorts have disrespected Haida law and jurisdiction, putting island residents at risk," the release stated. "Queen Charlotte Lodge (QCL) and West Coast Fishing Club have reopened without Haida consent. This means plane loads of non-residents are coming to our islands and potentially exposing island residents to COVID-19.
“Previously, QCL has catered to predominantly wealthy American clientele. Haida Gwaii is a remote community with limited health care services and only two ventilators on all of Haida Gwaii. One case would devastate our communities.”
Group spokesperson Adeana Young told the Georgia Straight by phone on July 10 that the action has begun but the word occupy is actually a misnomer: "They have started the 'occupation', yes, but we have always had occupation. We've always been there, prior to this."
Young said the Haida people were almost wiped out in smallpox epidemics in the past and are primarily concerned for their well-being during the coronavirus pandemic. "Our goal is to keep safe, whatever it takes to keep us safe."
From the late 1700s to the late 1800s, at least two smallpox epidemics reduced the Indigenous population of Haida Gwaii from an estimated 20,000 inhabitants to about 800, according to some estimates. Census takers on B.C.'s North Coast in 1881 found that the 1862-63 smallpox outbreak alone had reduced Haida numbers from 6.607 to 829.
Queen Charlotte Lodge, in Naden Harbour on the north coast of Graham Island, announced in a July 5 release that it intended to open today (July 10) for an almost two-month season. The village of Kung is nearby, as is Sk'aawats.
The Council of the Haida Nation, the elected government of the Haida Nation, declared a state of emergency on March 23 (since updated on June 2). The declaration stated: "Travel to and from communities on Haida Gwaii will be limited to essential services only."
The council's updated statement advised that "non-resident and all leisure travel to Haida Gwaii is not permitted at this time".
Haida Nation representative Duffy Edgars, chief councillor of Old Massett Village Council, wrote on Facebook that he and other residents hand-delivered letters to three fishing lodges on July 4, including QCL, advising them to remain closed until notified otherwise.
QCL president Paul Clough said in his signed July 5 statement that QCL "will respect all laws in operating its business safely". The release also stated: "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."
Brian Clives, QCL sales vice president, told Haida Gwaii Observer reporter Karissa Gall on June 28 that no reopening would happen "until we are welcome in the community" and that QCL staff want to be "good citizens of Haida Gwaii". Clives also said the lodge wanted a "made in Haida Gwaii solution" for any problems regarding reopening.