All that We Say Is Ours: Guiyaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation
November 4, 2013
Review By E.R. Atleo
Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation: All That We Say Is Ours is a human interest story around issues of Aboriginal title and rights. Ian Gill is an award-winning journalist, author, and the president of Ecotrust Canada. Guujaaw is the central character. The cover design shows Haida paddlers wearing cedar hats and ceremonial capes. The book is full of Haida names for places, people, plants, and animals as well as mythic creation stories placed in the context of contemporary issues concerning local employment versus corporate interests and environmental degradation versus sustainability, all of which play out in conflicting views about local priorities such as health and education versus Haida rights and title. Nevertheless, in spite of these apparent contradictions, the Haida manage to make title and rights a priority. Questions of Aboriginal title and rights have no easy answers, or, rather, they have several conflicting answers, depending upon who is speaking. In the Haida voice, one answer to title and rights is language. This means that some foreign names have been replaced by Haida names – for example, Guujaaw, meaning drum, replaces “Gary Edenshaw.” Further: “Haida Gwaii, Islands of the People, has an older name, Xaaydlaga Gwayaay, or Islands at the Boundary of the World. It has a younger name, too: the Queen Charlotte Islands” (21).
A reawakening means remembering ancient names like Xaaydlaga Gwayaay. From a Haida perspective these ancient names declare their title and rights to all of their ancient territories and surrounding waters. The issue of Aboriginal title and rights is much more than a legal issue, for it conflicts with a deeply entrenched way of life – a way of life that has been taken for granted until the recent interrelated global events of economic meltdown and climate change. In this latter context, the issue of Haida title and rights has global implications. But change does not come easy. In spite of Supreme Court decisions that declare governments have a duty to consult and accommodate, there is continuing resistance to change. Guujaaw has said in this regard: “It’s going to be hard to retrain them” (241).
In light of history, this is an important book because its story runs counter to every colonial prediction made about Aboriginals. What underlies the apparent durability, resilience, and strength of indigenous cultures – Haida, in this case? Why did the Haida not disappear from the face of the earth? Why are they, in fact, reawakening, as though from a deep political sleep? One important clue may be their statement: “Our physical and spiritual relationship with the lands and waters of Haida Gwaii, our history of co-existence with all living things over thousands of years is what makes up Haida culture” (170). This statement, if true, means that the Haida have never been alone in their struggles because they have always been part of a larger whole represented by the life within their lands and waters. In addition, the phrase “co-existence with all living things” resonates with environmental philosophy. An important assumption that underlies the theme of this book – the synchrony between Aboriginal and environmental ideas – creates a force for change. Reawakening of the Haida Nation may contribute to global rethinking about how humans might integrate themselves with the environment in sustainable ways.
All That We Say Is Ours: Guiyaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation
By Ian Gill
Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre 2009. 256 pp. $34.95 cloth