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Islands’ Spirit Rising: Reclaiming the Forests of Haida Gwaii

By Louise Takeda

Review By James Davey

June 30, 2015

BC Studies no. 188 Winter 2015-2016  | p. 150-51

In Islands’ Spirit Rising: Reclaiming the Forests of Haida Gwaii, Louise Takeda challenges the dominant epistemological perspective on the politics of BC resource management in order to “[further] political and social justice” and “give back” to the Haida (11, 14). She employs a power analysis framework informed by theorists Foucault, Habermas, Lukes, and Giddens to bolster her specific insights drawn from British Columbia and Haida politics, history, and anthropology. Analyzing both the power structures of “ecologically unequal exchanges” (7) and the ways in which actors strategize to overcome them, Takeda attempts to explain the development of the grassroots “indigenous-environmental-community” (4) alliance of 2004 between Haida, loggers, and environmentalists against a corporatist provincial government and foreign multinational timber companies. This alliance had begun in the 1980s and evolved through three decades, and peaked in 2004 when the mayor of Port Clements explicitly stated his support for a new logging regime aligned with that proffered by the Haida. After that point the people of the island — while still somewhat divided — more or less worked together against the province and multinational timber companies.

By combining archaeology, oral history, and written history, Takeda historicizes epistemological changes throughout the entire history of Haida Gwaii. (By epistemology, she refers to specific systems of knowledge and ways of understanding the world. The Haida epistemology is distinct from that of Canadian settler society as it is informed by unique history, traditions, and cosmology). She then presents the colonial displacement, the “war in the woods,” and subsequent collaborative planning as more than merely the clashing of systems of thought or languages of valuation. She explains the marginalization of the Haida — who “never ceded their rights and title” (6) — as the result of institutional powerlessness. Power, not merely epistemology, determines land use.

Following Richard Rajala’s Up-Coast: Forestry and Industry on British Columbia’s North Coast, 1870-2005 (2006), Takeda highlights the ways in which all people on Haida Gwaii are at the mercy of an “ecologically unequal exchange” with the political and economic centres of Victoria and Vancouver (6-7). The province’s two economic hubs disproportionately reap the profits of forest-related resource extraction, while Haida Gwaii disproportionately bears the cost of ecological degradation. By tracing the continually shifting web of alliances between and within Haida, environmentalist, and logging communities, Takeda convincingly breaks down the narrative of settler/native dichotomization.

Extending her power analysis framework, Takeda sees Haida attempts at reframing environmental policy debates as fundamentally about local governance. She argues that the indigenous-environmental-community alliance of 2004 centred on ideas of self-governance to protect a unique “island way of life” (111). Her analysis resists triumphalism, however, and she is careful to note dissenting opinions in the compromise solution.

Just as ecosystem protection, indigenous title, economic sustainability, and social and cultural cooperation are irreducibly intertwined, so Takeda weaves together environmental science, indigenous legal battles (e.g. the Delgamuukw and Tsilqhot’in decisions), economic projections, and Haida cosmology. Her measured and nuanced approach mirrors that of the 2003 Community Planning Forum in which diverse interests came together to find a collaborative solution by focusing on “interests” instead of “positions” (101). By consolidating disparate and diverse sources, and attending carefully to their associated epistemological underpinnings, Takeda illuminates the bridge-building potential of collaborative planning. Against this hard-fought collaborative consensus, she shows that industry and government obstinacy to change derived from shortsighted corporate greed that was unconcerned with the welfare of island communities.

Overall, Takeda provides a provocative and much-needed explanation for the persistence of unsustainable forest practices in British Columbia. Further, she considers contentious and topical debates over indigenous title, environmental activism, and the insecurity of forestry jobs to reveal the power relations that inform policy decisions.

Takeda focuses mainly on elite actors negotiating a transfer of power from core to periphery, but she also attends to the diversity of interest groups in the muddled and byzantine process of resource management policy. While forthright in her pro-Haida bias, Takeda’s careful power analysis framework allows her to challenge established historical narratives by presenting a new and pressingly needed perspective on both collaborative ecosystem management and indigenous land claims.

Islands’ Spirit Rising: Reclaiming the Forests of Haida Gwaii
Louise Takeda
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014. 264 pp. $32.95 paper