Hans Tammemagi visits a successful mixture of cultural tourism and business.
Atour from Ocean House, a floating luxury lodge on the remote west coast of Haida Gwaii, carried us through a mist enveloped seascape. At an isolated inlet, we entered a mystical green old-growth forest. A single totem stood tall and vertical among decaying house posts and totem poles lying horizontal in the shrubbery. Ghosts and spirits walked with us. It was a moving insight into Haida history.
For more than 10,000 years the Haida flourished on this archipelago off the northern coast of British Columbia. The first contact with the white man came in 1774, and by 1911 a population of about 14,000 had been reduced to 600. As documented in the Truth and Reconciliation report, the Haida suffered enormously with dozens of villages becoming ghost towns.
In recent years, however, the Haida have staged a remarkable recovery, based on the rich Haida culture and the glorious landscape of Haida Gwaii, as demonstrated by the tour at Ocean House.
A major milestone came in 1993 when the federal government and Haida Nation, after massive logging protests, agreed to the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in the southernmost part of Haida Gwaii. In 2005 it was named the best national park in North America.
Another giant step came in 2008 with the opening of the Haida Heritage Centre. Consisting of five long houses fronted by six traditional totem poles, the impressive centre has become a major tourist draw in Haida Gwaii and is also of vital cultural significance.
The Haida Nation thought for decades about their destiny and in 2009, Haida Enterprise Corporation, or HaiCo for short, was formed as the business arm of the Nation. HaiCo has a board of directors and the sole shareholder is the Council, the governing body of the Haida nation.
HaiCo is for and by the Haida people. The company focuses on building enterprises that reflect Haida cultural values, create careers and improve the lives of the Haida people and the economy. Furthermore, the corporation’s activities respect and protect the surrounding environment, ensuring the land and waters will sustain the well-being of the Haida People for generations to come.
Bob Brash, HaiCo CEO, said, “The Corporation has been successful on many fronts.” The number of Haida jobs and gross revenue have both grown significantly over HaiCo’s nine years of existence.
“A big challenge,”
“is ensuring we have good dialogue with the Haida people. It’s a complex marriage of social and economic ideas.”
Brash described how HaiCo operates in four different sectors representing sport fishing, cultural tourism, wood manufacturing and seafood processing.
Westcoast Resorts was purchased from bankruptcy in 2009 and now consists of two world-class fly-in fishing resorts at Englefield Bay and Hippa Island where visitors can partake in the Pacific coast’s best salmon, halibut and lingcod fishing. The fish are cleaned, cut and vacuum-sealed on-site.
Haida House at Tlall with 10 guest rooms and a restaurant was established in 2011. It is conveniently located on the east coast of Graham Island in the village of Tlell and is a bridge into Haida culture, offering unique Haida experiences and excursions to cultural sites. The House is decorated in traditional Haida artwork.
Ocean House is a fly-in, luxury resort and the most recent addition to HaiCo’s cultural tourism business. Opened in July 2018 with 12 guest rooms, Ocean House offers Haida culture in the glorious remoteness of fjord seascape and old-growth forest.
“Haida Wild is currently our smallest business, but has the most growth potential,” said Brash.
Taan Forest’s mandate is to ensure the forests of red cedar, sitka spruce, yellow cedar, and hemlock are harvested sustainably, cultural sites are maintained, and natural habitats protected. “Taan has successfully migrated jobs from off-shore onto Haida Gwaii,” said Brash, “especially with its contractors.”
With approximately 190 staff at peak season, HaiCo is leading a resurgence in creating jobs and economic independence for the Haida Nation … and is setting an example for First Nations across the country.