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Stories from the Indigenous Internship Program: A Line in the Sand

The Indigenous Internship Program at MOA was developed by six Indigenous partners: the Musqueam Indian Band, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the Haida Gwaii Museum, the U’mista Cultural Society, the Nlaka’pamux Nation, the Coqualeetza Cultural Society, and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. The program provides training opportunities for Indigenous people working in museums or Indigenous people who would like to do this kind of work. Funding for the Indigenous Internship Program is provided by Heritage Canada Museums Assistance Program and Mellon Foundation.

Our latest series of MOA Stories feature the fascinating research conducted by members of the Fall 2021 cohort during their internship.

A Line in the Sand

By Ks’aan Moody (Haida)

“Protect Lyell Island, Haida Country” badge; eagle design by Jim Edenshaw, 1985. Courtesy Museum of Anthropology, Hilary Stewart fonds, 122-03-26.

Sii.ngaay ’laa (Good day)! My Haida name is T’aanuus, which means “supernatural seagrass around the village of Tanu.” I come from HllgaGilda (Skidegate), Haida Gwaii, and my clan is Naay K’un Kiigawaay, Raven clan. I have had the most uplifting experience in the Indigenous Internship Program at the Museum of Anthropology, learning about conservation and curatorial work. Having been introduced to a current curatorial project exploring archival photos of public self-representations by Indigenous people, I went to the Museum’s library to do my own research. I asked the librarian if there was any information on Athlii Gwaaii—Lyell Island, on Haida Gwaii—where the historic 1985 protest against destructive logging practices took place. To my surprise, she came across two round metal badge pins: one with an image of an eagle head with the text “Protect Lyell Island, Haida Country,” and another with an image of a train and the text “South Moresby Caravan, 1986.” These badge pins are both connected to that major event.

After years of failed negotiations, the Haida First Nations people, along with our many allies, literally “drew a line in the sand.” They had come together to form a blockade on a logging road at Athlii Gwaaii to protect rare old-growth rainforests and important ecosystems and ensure their survival for future generations. The island’s forests are essential to Haida cultural practices such as weaving and carving, and to the annual salmon fisheries that sustain our people.

The stand that the Haida and their allies took at Athlii Gwaaii was a game changer. With dignity and respect the Elders led the way. Our Elders meant business. They were the first to stand in the blockade and the first to be arrested. During this peaceful protest, seventy-two Haida were arrested at the blockade. Facing imprisonment for civil disobedience, they let Canada and the world know how important the preservation of Athlii Gwaaii was for the Haida. When Elders spoke to journalists they said that “they were doing it for future generations” and setting an example for the people of Canada.

“South Moresby Caravan” badge, 1986. Courtesy Museum of Anthropology archives, Hilary Stewart fonds, 122-03-26.

I think that the youth that stood on the line of the blockade did not have any idea that this protest would change history. My Aunty Jenny Cross owns one of the badges with the eagle design and was one of the young people who travelled to the camp to take shifts on the blockade. She told me that “the community helped each other gather supplies such as food, water and building supplies… During this time period, it snowed and the temperature dropped substantially. Some of the Land Protectors harvested a huge halibut and deer; they were hung from a tree and it was so cold they froze… There were some mornings where we would trek a few miles in the snow to block the road.” The blockade succeeded in raising the issue to discussion in the BC Supreme Court and House of Commons.

The South Moresby Caravan arrives in Vancouver, March 15, 1986. This group includes one of the Haida Elders arrested on the blockade line and who had joined the Caravan, Elder Ada Yovanovich (center), and community leader Myles Richardson (left). Photo by Dan Keeton. Courtesy Simon Fraser University, Pacific Tribune Photograph Collection, MSC160-1286_29.

The Haida protests gained supporters and allies across Canada. The South Moresby Caravan was a train that started in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in March 1986 and travelled 7,500 kilometres across Canada to rally support for protests on Lyell Island in the South Moresby area. Later that year, the Minister of the Environment announced that the federal and provincial governments would designate South Moresby as a national park reserve.

The success of this protest led to the development of a co-management agreement between the Council of the Haida Nation and Canada: a first of its kind in the world. On July 11, 1987, the Canadian and B.C. governments signed a memorandum of agreement, creating what is today the 1,495-square-kilometre Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. This is one of the only places in Canada that is protected from mountain-top to sea floor. The agreement includes a state-of-the-art marine management plan, and it set the stage for co-management between Indigenous peoples and governments.

Today we are taught from a very young age about this historic protest and its impact for our nation and community. It is a pride we all carry with us every day. Younger generations continue to fight for what is right and for what is right for the earth. When I hold these badge pins, I am transported to this time when my people showed such courage and bravery. It makes me feel proud to connect with these meaningful treasures.

Banner image: People in Vancouver march in the street to show support for the Haida protests against destructive logging practices on Lyell Island, March 17, 1986. Photo by Dan Keeton. Courtesy Simon Fraser University, Pacific Tribune Photograph Collection, MSC160-1285_25. (same as banner image.)