Haida Gwaii Collaborative Land Use Planning

Haida Gwaii Collaborative Land Use Planning


Problems and Purpose

Haida Gwaii, a stunning and biodiverse archipelago off the central coast of British Columbia, Canada, is the traditional territory of the Haida Nation and a focal point for innovation in land use planning between Aboriginal peoples and the Government of British Columbia. For more than three decades, the Haida Nation have been asserting their rights and title to Haida Gwaii and working to safeguard its coastal temperate rainforests, ones they have depended on for millennia. Through grassroots activism and through formal government-to-government partnerships, the Haida have reversed the islands’ previous trends of deforestation and ecosystem degradation caused by unsustainable forest practices. By asserting their rights and values through collaborative land use planning with provincial government, 70% of all forests on Haida Gwaii are now protected and co-managed by the Province and the Haida Nation (Takeda, 2014).

The process that led to these collaborative governance outcomes was a long-enduring legal and political struggle to assert their Aboriginal rights in the face of the institutional dominance of  governments and the logging industry on one hand, and the mobilization of social and community capital to sustainably plan Haida Gwaii on the other hand (Pinkerton, 1982; Takeda, 2014). To understand the full context of Haida Gwaii’s democratic innovations, a historical context of the Haida’s movement for self-governance will be outlined, followed by an examination of how the Haida addressed non-native local stakeholder concerns, how they reshaped the planning and governance institutions on Haida Gwaii, and lastly, how they assertively claimed an equal role with governments in determining the fate of their islands.   


In 1992, the Government of British Columbia established a collaborative planning model to respond to widespread resource and land use conflicts occurring across British Columbia (Takeda, 2014). Although the intention of this new planning model was to incorporate more meaningful stakeholder and community-based participation, final decision-making remained largely at a unilateral, senior government level. Moreover, aside from the case of Clayoquot Sound, BC, where a scientific panel thoroughly and respectfully incorporated traditional knowledge into its planning process (Scientific Panel on Clayoquot Sound, 1995), most other regional planning scenarios across BC in the 1990s and early 2000s did not provide comprehensive space for indigenous uses of the land or perspectives of ecological governance (Howitt, 2001; Lane, 2006). Quite simply, First Nations interests were being discussed at planning tables merely as a “stakeholder”, with no greater authority than sectors such as tourism, recreation, and hunting – leading many First Nations communities to boycott these processes entirely (Takeda, 2014).

However, the planning situation of the Haida Nation proved to be unique for several reasons. The provincial government attempted to develop a Land and Resource Management Plan for Haida Gwaii in 1997, but the Haida were cognizant of the likelihood of their interests being neglected. Consequently, they withdrew from the planning process, causing many other stakeholders on Haida Gwaii to withdraw as well. Many did so knowing about the Haida’s ongoing legal case against the provincial government over their right to manage Haida Gwaii, and these stakeholders understood that a favourable court ruling for the Haida may render illegitimate any land use plan developed without their consent. Gradually, the provincial government realized that the design of the planning process would have to be established collaboratively  with the Haida. In 2001, the Haida Protocol was signed by the Haida Nation and the provincial government, indicating the principles that would guide a government-to-government process for land use planning. A year later, as anticipated, the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Haida in 2002 and outlined the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate Haida when land and resource use decisions could affect their rights and title.

In light of all these factors and circumstances, a co-managed process was negotiated between the provincial and federal governments for land use and forest planning on Haida Gwaii (Takeda, 2014). Both parties set out intentions to create a planning process that would engage all relevant stakeholders, account for all social and ecological concerns raised by the community, and align with the beliefs and aspirations of the islanders from Haida Gwaii. These objectives were outlined to ensure fairness, seek consensus, and increase the probability of successful implementation of the land use plan (Gill, 2010; Takeda, 2014.) More broadly, the collaborative land use planning on Haida Gwaii would unfold in two phases:

  1. The first phase entailed a participatory, consensus-seeking planning forum, known as the Community Planning Forum, which would serve the purpose of drafting recommendations for future land use in Haida Gwaii. Included within this phase was a series of facilitated dialogues and debates among Haida, provincial, industry, and community representatives on issues relating to land use planning. Such topics ranged from expanding tourism to conserving non-timber forest values to upholding the broader public interest of Haida Gwaii.
  2. Second, after the forum concluded, the next phase was to address contentious issues that were unresolved in the Community Planning Forum. Among these were issues where consensus was not reached, or where land use recommendations were not supported by either the Haida Nation or the provincial government. Government-to-government negotiations between the Province and the Haida would be established to address these issues.

Originating Entities and Funding

Co-management Structure

The structural and procedural foundations for the Community Planning Forum were determined by the Province and the Haida in the Planning Process Framework. Specifically, this framework outlined goals to “protect and maintain ecosystem integrity, maintain spiritual and cultural values, enhance sustainable economic opportunity within the inherent limits of the land, foster social and community well-being” (Takeda, 2014, pg. 91). It furthermore emphasized developing co-management processes to guide all land use planning deliberations and decision-making.

As a result, two foundational documents were agreed to by both parties to guide land use planning. These documents included the Haida Land Use Vision and the Ecosystem Based Management Framework. The former outlined the Haida’s traditional ecological knowledge and practices relating to the ecosystems of Haida Gwaii, whereas the latter summarizes the adaptive management practices recommended to conserve social and ecological well-being on the island. In both cases, these documents were formulated through extensive consultation with communities and in the latter case, was derived from a combination of local indigenous knowledge and Western scientific perspectives.

Additionally, two planning teams were also formed to implement the planning process. The first team formed was the Process Management Team, which was tasked with designing the planning process, facilitating the planning forum deliberations among stakeholders, and drafting final recommendations for approval from the Council of the Haida Nation and the provincial Cabinet. This team was composed of two co-chairs and two process coordinators, with one of each role receiving an appointee from the Haida and the Province, respectively. The other team assembled was the Process Technical Team, which comprised technical experts from the Haida, the Province, and industry. This team was responsible for providing accurate and unbiased technical information that was acceptable to all parties, and subsequently presented to the Community Planning Forum to guide deliberations and debates about land use issues on Haida Gwaii.

Process Funding

The provincial government agreed to help ensure sufficient financial resources were in place to foster broad participation in the planning process. Seeing that a major impediment to change in forest policy on the north and central coasts of BC was the fate of forest sector jobs, a $35 million mitigation fund was created to compensate workers and contractors for income losses resulting from land use planning in the two regions (one of which included Haida Gwaii). The Coast Opportunity Fund was the resulting fund that would address the economic concerns of communities relating to reduced timber harvests while planning occurred, while simultaneously avoiding “talk and log” scenarios that may cause conservation-oriented stakeholders to withdraw (Takeda, 2014).

Yet another early source of tension in the Community Planning Forum was financial compensation for participation. While government and industry representatives would be fully compensated for their time commitment throughout the 15-month planning timeframe, several community members participating in the forum would be essentially volunteering their time. The dissatisfaction expressed by many participants resulted in prominent members of the Community Planning Forum threatening to withdraw. While the Province refused to cover more than the costs of travel and food for the participants, the Process Management Team was able to seek additional funding to pay all participants through the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account. As a result, all participants received remuneration and the planning table became the first in all of BC to provide compensation to all of its participants (Takeda, 2014).  

Participant Selection

The opportunity to participate in the planning forum was promoted through various means including open houses, public presentations, planning newsletters, and newspaper ads. The initial intention in the selection process was to include stakeholders that represented a wide spectrum of stakeholder interests and perspectives on Haida Gwaii. In the end, 29 individuals were selected to speak in the forum on behalf of 15 stakeholder groups. Among those selected, 20 non-Haida representatives were chosen through a nominating process that was co-managed by the Haida and the Province, whereas the nine Haida members were nominated by the Council of the Haida Nation.   

Two representatives were selected for each of the following sectors:

(List adapted from Takeda, 2014)

Interest/Sector                                     Background of Representatives

1. Council of the Haida Nation:           ▪ Council of the Haida Nation members

2. Haida cultural values:                      ▪ Hereditary chiefs

3. Band councils:                                 ▪ Skidegate Band Council                                                                                                                                                    ▪ Old Massett Village Council

4. Non-timber forest products:            ▪ Haida elder and plant specialist                                                                                                                                       ▪ Commercial mushroom gatherer           

5. Local government:                          ▪ Mayor of Port Clements                                                                                                                                                   ▪ Mayor of Massett

6. Provincial government:                   ▪ Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management

7. Small business forestry:                  ▪ Logging contractors

8. Major forest tenure holders:            ▪ Vice-president, Husby Forest Products                                                                                                                            ▪ Senior forester, Teal-Jones

9. Forest-based employment:              ▪ Forest sector employees

10. Terrestrial ecosystems:                   ▪ Professional forester/Haida Forest Guardian                                                                                                                   ▪ Biologist

11. Aquatic ecosystems:                       ▪ Marine biologists

12. Cultural heritage tourism:               ▪ Haida Nation member                                                                                                                                                       ▪ Ecotourism operator

13. Tourism:                                         ▪ Hotel owner                                                                                                                                                                      ▪ Coffee/gift shop owner

14. Public interest:                               ▪ Residents at large

15. Sub-surface resources:                  ▪ Taseko Mines                                                                                                                                                                   ▪ Haida artist/argillite carver

Many of the representatives selected had used various methods of consulting with, and receiving feedback from, those within the sector or interest they represented. For instance, the two residents at large who spoke on behalf of the ‘public interest’ had conducted surveys and interviews with residents of Haida Gwaii to delineate key values and interests of islanders. Similarly, the ‘cultural heritage tourism’ representatives referred to the Heritage Tourism Strategy, a document that was developed during a previous participatory roundtable between local residents and the Haida Nation. Lastly, in order to ensure transparency and clarity at the Community Planning Forum, participants were requested to submit an interest statement, which gave the opportunity for all other participants to be aware of each other’s common and divergent goals.


Ecosystem-based Management

The Ecosystem-Based Management Framework was one of the two guiding documents for the Community Planning Forum. The working definition of EBM provided by this framework was “an adaptive approach to managing human activities that seeks to ensure the coexistence of healthy, fully functioning ecosystems and human communities. The intent is to maintain those spatial and temporal characteristics of ecosystems such that component species and ecological processes can be sustained, and human wellbeing supported and improved” (Coast Information Team, 2004, pg. 2).

Collaborative Planning

Meanwhile, the broader process of negotiation and consensus-seeking planning used in the Community Planning Forum is indicative of many components of collaborative planning theory. One of the key ways in which collaborative planning theory is employed is the structure of negotiation within the planning forum, as well as the approaches outlined for conflict resolution. In particular, a four-stage process of conflict resolution was included in the Planning Process Framework, Takeda (2014) notes that this process entailed:

  1. Independent facilitation to guide the parties in interest-based negotiations;
  2. The use of working groups to negotiate solutions where consensus could not be reached;
  3. The use of an independent mediator if agreement remained elusive; and
  4. Government-to-government talks for unresolved substantive issues at the end of the process.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

Deliberations of the Community Planning Forum were primarily guided by reviewing and debating technical information presented by the Process Technical Team. However, in several cases, the information presented was found to be problematic or inadequate by various participants at the planning table. For instance, reports that attempted to provide an overview of the socio-economic conditions of the island were condemned as a ‘misrepresentation’ of the community by some participants. Similarly, economic analyses relating to timber supply and logging scenarios were based on the assumption that job losses would occur from any reduction in timber harvest levels, regardless of the broader contexts of the forest sector and the opportunities to diversify the economy in areas such as non-timber forest resources and value-added certifications. For many participants, it became clear that the information presented to the planning forum was often written and conceptualized through Western institutional, legal, and economic understandings and values, which were at odds with Haida and community interests expressed in the forum.

Through continual deliberation, many of the less contentious issues were resolved. For example, agreements were reached on topics such as community sustainability, tourism and recreation, visual management, and non-timber forest products. However, on critical topics such as timber resources and acceptable levels of risk relating to ecosystems, two opposing viewpoints emerged in the forum. One viewpoint favoured by industry representatives argued for the status quo: maintaining timber harvest levels, minimizing creation of new protected areas, continuing present management practices in riparian zones (50 meter buffers). Representatives from the logging industry also argued against implementing the Ecosystem-Based Management Framework, stating that it was more precautionary than necessary and would threaten forest sector jobs.

Meanwhile, a second viewpoint held by community representatives reasoned that preserving ecosystem integrity and the long-term sustainability of the forest sector took precedence over immediate harvest levels. Additionally, the community argued for value-added certifications, employment-maximizing forest practices, and ecosystem-based management as means of creating a sustainable, long-term forest economy. These representatives also defended the Haida Land Use Vision as a critical to conserving cultural, ecological, and economic well-being on Haida Gwaii.  

The eventual result of the Community Planning Forum discussions and debates was the Draft Recommendations Package, which the Process Management Team had compiled by summarizing consensus viewpoints expressed during the final forum meetings. It included recommendations in three areas: ecosystem integrity, cultural and spiritual values, and community and economic well-being.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

As deliberations concluded, it became more evident that power dynamics and external political factors began to sway the planning process. Although the Process Management Team had been jointly coordinated by Haida and provincial appointees, the latter had taken a dominant role in drafting the recommendations, and this was most evident when the final recommendations largely favoured the viewpoints of industry. More problematic was the fact, during the same time that the Community Planning Forum was concluding, the provincial government had not only renewed a controversial tree farm license on Haida Gwaii that was an unresolved issue in the planning forum, but it also passed legislation to reduce its role in forest management (through the Forest and Range Practices Act). In effect, more control and decision-making power was granted to timber companies owning tree farm licenses, thereby removing the legal duty of the provincial Crown to consult and accommodate Aboriginal interests.

As the timeline set out for government-to-government negotiations lapsed, the Haida and non-Haida islanders became increasingly frustrated with the status-quo outcome of the collaborative planning process. In effect, the provincial government showed no sign of implementing any of the communities recommendations put forth at the planning table. Unwilling to accept this unfair and non-democratic outcome, the Haida decided to take direct action by blocking logging roads across Haida Gwaii. Utilizing the social capital built through the planning forum, the Haida mobilized the community members and stakeholder groups whose interests were also neglected in the forum.

Three years of political activism and protest would ensue before an equitable agreement by the Haida’s standard was finally reached with the Province. The Strategic Land Use Agreement was signed in 2007 and it created new and unprecedented standards for Aboriginal reconciliation. Notably, it established two permanent, co-management bodies to direct strategic and operational level decision-making on Haida Gwaii.

The Haida Gwaii Management Council was created to co-manage high-level resource management decisions. It was comprised of two representatives selected by the Haida and the Province, and one chair chosen cooperatively by both parties. As Takeda (2014, pg. 195) outlined, this entity was responsible for four main decision-making areas:

  1. Implementation and amendment of the 2007 Strategic Land Use Agreement
  2. Establishment; implementation, and amendment of land use objectives for forest practices
  3. Approval of management plans for protected areas, development of policies and standards for conservation of heritage sites
  4. Determination and approval of the annual allowable cut for Haida Gwaii

Moreover, the Solutions Table was established as an equivalent entity to make operational-level decisions. It would address “matters pertaining not only to forestry, but to all natural resource ministries, including mines, aquaculture, fish habitat management, recreational permits, archaeology, and more” (Takeda, 2014, pg. 195).

Although further evidence is needed to examine the long-term effectiveness of these two democratic, co-governance entities, it appears that the initial aspirations of collaborative land use planning were the prelude to the establishment of new democratic institutions that align with the Haida Nation’s understanding of reconciliation.  

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The process and outcome of the Haida Nation’s Strategic Land Use Agreement provides critical lessons and future implications for Aboriginal co-management and reconciliation. As a starting point, First Nations communities have to be vigilant of the power dynamics within collaborative planning as noted in Haida Gwaii, in which the provincial government’s authority and conventional understandings of contract and property rights, forestry, economic development, resource management, and governance initially dominated the process. On the other hand, the Haida held distinct cultural, ecological, and social values within the aforementioned themes. Although the Province and the Haida found common ground on several perspectives of land use, critical areas such as protection of old growth forests and riparian buffers for fish habitat represented areas of more intense disagreement. Throughout these disagreements, the Haida Land Use Vision gained broader public acceptance due to the series of maps, data, ecological analyses, and other tools to support their claims of how best to maintain the ecological integrity of the islands while meeting social and economic objectives.

The shift in power toward the Haida also took place in the context of ongoing lawsuits, threats of commercial logging boycotts, and other collective actions between Haida and non-Haida locals. In the end, a new governance structure emerged on Haida Gwaii, one that incorporated the Haida Land Use Vision’s five key objectives of maintaining cultural values, aquatic habitat, biodiversity, wildlife, and forest reserves. Ultimately, the convoluted pathway to reconciliation between Haida and the provincial Crown, although not complete, has moved forward in bold and unprecedented strides in Haida Gwaii. In the future, the evolving status of Aboriginal title and the progressive actions of the provincial and federal government will determine how much these promising steps will lead to a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown.

Secondary Sources

Dale, N. (1999). Cross-cultural community based planning. negotiating the future of Haida Gwaii. The consensus building handbook.

Galbraith, L. (2014). Making space for reconciliation in the planning system. Planning Theory & Practice, 15(4), 453-479.

Gill, I. (2010). “This Box of Treasures.” All that We Say is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation. D & M Publishers.

HGSLUP, “Haida Gwaii Strategic Land Use Planning Agreement.” (2007). Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Province of British Columbia.

HGLUOO, “Haida Gwaii Strategic Land Use Objectives Order.” (2014). Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources, Province of British Columbia

Pinkerton, E. (1983). Taking the minister to court: changes in public opinion about forest management and their expression in Haida land claims. BC Studies: The British Columbian   Quarterly, (57), 68-85.

Takeda, L. (2014). Islands' Spirit Rising: Reclaiming the Forests of Haida Gwaii. UBC Press.

Takeda, L., & Røpke, I. (2010). Power and contestation in collaborative ecosystem-based management: The case of Haida Gwaii. Ecological Economics, 70(2), 178-188.

Case Data


Haida Gwaii BC
British Columbia CA


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Province of BC, Coast Opportunity Funds, South Moresby Forest Replacement Account
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Indigenous Government
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Indigenous Government
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