It was a low key celebration, but it was definitely a celebration. About 80 islanders gathered Sunday evening at the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate to celebrate the creation of the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, to give it its full name. It's been a long time in the making, but by later this week, when the federal Treasury Board gives the nod, the marine area will be legally protected, for once and for all.
Late last week, the Parliament in Ottawa agreed to expedite the protection, and Environment Minister Jim Prentice, on the islands for a couple of days over the weekend, called it a milestone.
"This week in the House of Commons all the parties agreed to expedite the creation of the marine conservation area. It was for me one of the most moving moments, to see unanimity in the House for this marine conservation area," Mr. Prentice told those attending in Skidegate.
He said everyone who has fought for the protection should be very proud, and there is a great cause for celebration in the community.
"It happened because the Haida Nation fought to make it happen. It was created because the Haida Nation fought to protect not only the lands but the ocean," Mr. Prentice said, "this is the first time that this has happened on the planet, to protect an area from the depths of the oceans to the tips of the mountains."
The marine protected area covers 1,500 square kilometres. When added to the 3,500 square kilometres of land already protected in Gwaii Haanas, it gives a total of 5,000 square kilometres. But it's not just about area. It's the first time anywhere in the world an ecosystem has been protected from mountaintop to sea floor.
"It's extraordinary," the minister said, this is an international achievement.it is an incredible accomplishment for Canadians."
The newly protected area will be jointly managed by Ottawa through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Haida. That's a landmark as well.
Mr. Prentice said there will be a lot of work yet to come on the management side, but the area is an important ecosystem and "it is going to be well-managed".
"It is going to be a real important piece about turning around our attitudes to the oceans," CHN President Guujaaw said, "I know there are lots of people in this room that have worked hard on this. We are still getting some resistance from the fishing industry. Not the islands fishing industry, but the fishing industry from off island".
Guujaaw also thanked the minister for his role, as well as all the other people, in the room or not, who worked for the protection.
Trying to protect the waters around Gwaii Haanas has been ongoing for the better part of 25 years. This week, it will become be a reality.