Will and Kate visit Haida Gwaii with anger in the air

Just days after a controversial LNG project scores federal approval, the royals visit a precious west-coast rainforest on Haida Gwaii

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge arrives by canoe to Haida Gwaii on September 30, 2016 in Haida Gwaii, Canada. (Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images)

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge arrives by canoe to Haida Gwaii on September 30, 2016 in Haida Gwaii, Canada. (Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images)

The silence, as Will and Kate rounded Sea Lion Point off Graham Island on Haida Gwaii, felt deafening. The royal pair, paddling a black-and-white Haida war canoe, rode a fast-rising tide onto Second Beach. It was so quiet you could hear the splash of every stroke as their paddles cut through the cold, clear Pacific waters off B.C.’s north coast. Even the 100 local schoolchildren there—some as young as four and five—somehow stayed perfectly still. The only sounds came from the 12-member Skidegate Saints youth basketball team who sang the monarchs in, their voices low, solemn. One held the bright, red flag of the Haida Nation. A lone drummer on a small skin at the stern kept the beat.

Every stop on a royal tour has its own vibe. The Yukon leg earlier this week felt informal, warm, intimate. Vancouver was loud and hectic. The visit to Haida Gwaii was sombre. There was anger in the air.

Royal visit 2016: Will and Kate on the grittiest tour ever

The royal stopover came just 48 hours after the federal government suddenly announced its approval of a controversial, $36-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project at Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert. The North Pacific Coast project, which the Haida strongly oppose, would see 19 million tonnes of LNG routed through B.C., then shipped to markets in Asia.

“There’s a lot of anger. And the timing of the announcement—just two days before we showcased Haida Gwaii to the world—made people even more angry,” Haida President Peter Lantin explained. “It puts a lot of pressure on us—what are we going to do? What are we going to say?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s promised to “reset” Canada’s relations with Indigenous peoples—and has, ahem, a Haida raven tattooed to his shoulder—wisely chose to attend a funeral rather than face the Haida at Gwaii Hanaas, the national park they co-manage with Ottawa. B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who was also expected to be here, pulled out the night before. Lantin said the premier was asked not to come, due to longstanding concerns over LNG.

Royal visit in Yukon: When protocol goes out the window

“We are not angry with William and Kate,” explained Jenna Shelford, who is of mixed Maori and Haida descent. “This wasn’t their decision. And although we are angry, it’s not our place to show it today,” said the 16-year-old, one of four Haida youth chosen to take the royal duo crabbing and fishing off Skidegate. Today was about “sending a message,” she added.

That’s why Will and Kate’s fellow paddlers were wearing bright blue, “NO LNG” T-shirts. And why a group of 10 anti-LNG protesters lined up along the Yellowhead Highway, far from media, but at a spot the royal motorcade would have to pass. (Support appeared widespread; during an interview with Maclean’s, eight of 10 passing cars honked support. A passing RCMP officer threw up his hands, as if to say: “If I could, I’d be with you.”)

There is a reason the Haida feel so strongly. There is nothing like the North Pacific rainforest left anywhere else on the planet. Until about a thousand years ago, temperate rainforests like these could be found on every continent except Africa and Antarctica—Japan, Scotland, Iceland all had rainforests rivalling B.C.’s. And once upon a time, this one ran all the way from Kodiak Island, in Alaska, south to California. These days, all that remains is the northern section, in B.C. The Haida are determined to keep it intact—and to keep industry out.

RELATED: Will and Kate’s modest Yukon digs

They’re hardly rookies at this. The Haida’s hard-fought, 1985 win over clear-cutting and the Crown is considered one of the earliest and biggest wins by a First Nation in B.C. The government’s duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous and treaty rights, one of the most important precedents in Indigenous jurisprudence, was established in 1993, in Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests).

For Trudeau, tough words from the Haida are an early sign of the bumpy road ahead, as the Prime Minister attempts to live up to the huge range of promises made to Indigenous people in the lead-up to last October’s election.

“We used to take pride in the Prime Minister’s Haida ink,” said Delvina Lawrence. “We thought he was a friend. Now, it feels like he’s stabbed us in the back.”


    Will and Kate visit Haida Gwaii with anger in the air

    1. I imagine the Haida sheltered the Royals from the poorly executed ‘Clear Cuts’ dotting Graham Island which were done after they took Authority over logging. Also the fact that electricity is generated by Diesel power was ignored and efforts to usual natural energy sources like bio-mass were rejected in the past.

      • No wonder that people from outside BC don’t come for a visit with you. Your first task would be to take them to a clear-cut and condemn their family history.

        Here’s a dose of reality for you: Reaching an agreement on anything, with anyone, takes time, patience and a sincere attempt at understanding. Yelling, complaining, whining, finger-pointing and an unshakeable anger at history that can’t be changed will produce nothing.

        All of the First Nations that have achieved treaties in modern times understood this. Those who couldn’t control themselves remain at the negotiating table and will remain there for a long, long time.

        • please read other articles on the event……….this one really put a bad spin on it. It was a good day for the haida’s and william and kate.

        • And time……..it has been over 150 years. How long do we have to wait?

        • “No wonder that people from outside BC don’t come for a visit with you.” Unfortunately, they do not come to visit. This is what your father done to our land. Nothing wrong with showing the children their parents handiwork. especially if the children profited off the spoils of clear-cut and left the scars of their actions for future generations to see.
          How is that for a dose of reality? It is not history that needs changing. It is His-story and the whitewashing that are being exposed and changed.

          “Yelling, complaining, whining, finger-pointing is what you Canaduhians do best. It is as Canadian as Maple syrup. Canada and Canaduhians such as yourself need to respect the ‘rule of law’ and the Constitution.

          Not to worry, there are more than 3000 First Nation lawyers to keep you honest.

    2. There was no anger in the air. Please quit blowing things out of proportion. There was a silent protest by some of our people wearing the blue no LNG tee shirts. No one said anything. Kate and William were treated as all guests to Haida Gwaii are treated……with respect by all our people Fighting to keep our home the beautiful place that it is has been an ongoing battle on this coast. One tanker spill could destroy everything. People here still rely on the ocean for at least 60% of their diet. The ocean…….and the land define our culture. It was a wonderful and positive day…..please leave it that way.

    3. Please do your research……..show me where you think there was anger? It makes me angry when media puts their own spin on things just to get people to read your article. But hundreds of articles came out from other media that did not do this……not even the ones from the uk put this kind of spin on the event. Prince William and Kate came to see how we live…….not just the best parts but how we really live. I am asking you to change your heading to this story…..because it is a lie.

    4. Justy sends the royal into an ambush and ducks out the back door. Shows what he’s made of. Not much, the spineless jellyfish.