Haida Now: Rise of the Guardians

Cultural Stewardship and Protection

I am Miles Richardson from the Eagle Clan on the west coast of Haida Gwaii. I can talk about the origins of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen from my experiences. I know in the late sixties and seventies a lot of our people were getting really concerned about visitors coming to Haida Gwaii and helping themselves to the totem poles and the jewelry that was buried in our ancestral village sites.

Our people, through the Skidegate Band Council then, said we are going to manage visitors and we are going to lay out the rules from our authority as the owners of these places, those being our village sites, and we are going to welcome visitors and we are going to make sure everything is done according to the way we want it done. We want them to come, we want them to feel welcome, we want them to understand and satiate their curiosity about our culture, but we want them to respect it the way we want it done.

Visitors, far from objecting to our Watchmen being on site were so happy to be greeted when they arrived at these sites, and they are fairly remote sites, by happy Haidas who are hosting you and explaining to you the history of these places. People really appreciate it.

The Haida Gwaii Watchmen has evolved into the Coastal Guardians Network. All of our neighbouring nations on the north coast of British Columbia now have Guardians programs. And there have been other similar programs that have sprung up in other parts of Canada. I would love to see a day where every one of those nations had a guardians program of their own and I would see each of those nations developing those guardian programs according to their own culture, their own visions of the future, in their own way.

There are many functions that the Haida Gwaii Watchmen could serve in our old village sites and all around Haida Gwaii and that was always my vision and it would enable our people to move back to our ancestral homes and be functioning and have a very useful purpose. I think we still need to keep building toward that although I know in the political fray between ourselves and Canada it seems to have been lost.

I think we need to evolve. I think Haidas need to re-seize control of it and move it forward in our vision, in terms of how we see our future in our own lives. This Indigenous Guardians Network will be a key, constructive, building piece for that new relationship if we are serious about reconciliation. And all reconciliation means to me is that we accept each of us for who we are.

Miles Richardson

The Watchmen Program was established in 1981 by the Skidegate Band Council and the Haida Nation to protect culturally significant sites in Gwaii Hainas, the “Islands of Beauty”

Miles Richardson is the youngest person to have served as President of the Haida Nation, serving from 1984-1996

Coastal Guardian Watchmen play a critical role in all aspects of stewardship for Coastal First Nations ensuring resources are sustainably managed, that rules and regulations are followed and that land and marine use agreements are implemented effectively. They uphold and enforce traditional and contemporary Indigenous laws passed down over countless generations, and work together to monitor, protect and restore the cultural and natural resources of these coastal territories.
Coastal Guardian Watchmen

Guardians are employed as the “eyes on the ground” in Indigenous territories. They monitor ecological health, maintain cultural sites and protect sensitive areas and species. They play a vital role in creating land-use and marine-use plans. And they promote intergenerational sharing of Indigenous knowledge—helping train the next generation of educators, ministers and nation builders.
Indigenous Guardians Program

We are sustaining our traditional territory not only for us but for the whole world. Our ecosystem is so pure, we have so many trees, that we are cleaning up a lot of pollution. It means that we are here protecting Mother Earth in order for the rest of the world to live on her.
Indigenous Guardians: Caring for the Land – Film

The School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) at SFU is an interdisciplinary research focused school where technologists, artists, designers and theorists collaborate in innovative research and immersive study.
SFU School of Interactive Arts and Technology

Haida Now is a celebration of human expression, spirit, and survival. It is a collective endeavour that will extend into the future as an example of how to engage in meaningful conversations about the truth, sophistication, and beauty of our culture and art.

Kwiaahwah Jones
Haida Curator
Haida Now: A Visual Feast of Innovation and Tradition
Museum of Vancouver in partnership with Haida Gwaii Museum