Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program

What is the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program?

Legend says that the role of the watchmen, was to alert its owner to the approach of an enemy or any other happenings he should be aware of. It is symbolized by three human figures wearing high hats and is often found perched on top of Haida poles. This is the symbol adopted by the Haida to represent the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program.

The Haida people recognize that natural and cultural elements cannot be separated. They recognize that the protection of the Gwaii Haanas is essential to sustaining Haida culture, and so initiated the Watchmen Program to protect culturally significant sites in the South Moresby region, now known as Gwaii Haanas, "Island of wonder". 

How has the Watchmen program evolved?

In 1981, prior to Gwaii Haanas being designated a Haida Hertiage Site or a National Park Reserve, the Skidegate Band Council and the Haida Nation responded to concerns about the potential for vandalism and other damage to old Haida village sites, by initiating the "Haida Watchmen Program".  This program began with several parties of one or two volunteers who used their own boats to travel to these sites where they would camp for the summer season. These volunteers acted as guardians for sites at K'uuna (Skedans), T'aanuu (Tanu), SGaang Gwaii (Anthony Island/Ninstints), Hlk'yah (Windy Bay), Burnaby Narrows, and Gandle K'in (Hotspring Island), protecting their natural and cultural heritage. At the same time, they presented visitors with a first hand introduction to Haida culture by exposing them to Haida life and sharing their knowledge of the environs as well as stories, songs and dances associated with the sites.

In 1985, under the authority of the Haida Constitution, the South Moresby area was designated a Haida Heritage Site.  Then in 1988, in response to public lobby, the governments of British Colulmbia and Canada signed the South Moresby Agreement, thereby designating the area as a National Park Reserve in recognition of its notable natural and cultural heritage. This was followed in 1993 by the Gwaii Haanas Agreement, setting out the terms of a co-operative management between the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada.  This unprecedented agreement, while respecting both part's views on ownership and jurisdiction, provides the opportunity for the two parties to co-operate in the planning, management and operations of the area through the Archipelago Management Board. This board has equall representation from both parties and makes decisions by consensus based on its mandate defined by the Agreement and the existing laws and policies of each of the parties.

Since the co-operative management of Gwaii Haanas, key elements of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen program remain unchanged, with Watchmen posted at all the previous sites with the exception of Burnaby Narrows. The mandate of the program continues to be, first and foremost, the safeguarding of Gwaii Haanas. The presence of the Watchmen plays an important role in the protection of the sensitive sites, accomplished largely by educating visitors about the natural and cultural heritage of Gwaii Haanas and ensuring that visitors know how to travel without leaving a trace of their passage.  General information about safety and the latest marine forecasts that come in by radio are also provided.