Lyell Island Blockade
Haida Nation protects hundreds of thousands of acres from industrial logging
In the fall of 1985, the battle between local loggers and the Haida Nation had reached a tipping point. For more than 10 years, Haida leaders had fought to stop widespread logging on Gwaii Haanas, the southern part of the Haida Gwaii archipelago, then still officially known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. But a major forestry company called Western Forest Products still planned to log a fifth of Haida Gwaii’s 60,000 acres of Crown land in less than half a century. The Haida worried that further logging could endanger local salmon streams they had long relied upon for survival.
In 1980, the Nation launched a land claim with the federal government, asserting its title to the territory. The Haida also supported a proposal by environmental activists to transform much of the archipelago into protected wilderness, but neither the federal or provincial government took action and logging continued.
On Oct. 30, 1985, a hereditary chief draped in a traditional button blanket led a nonviolent blockade of a logging road on Lyell Island, also known as Athlii Gwaii. “We will not be pushed aside in our own homelands and told that our interests are not worthy of consideration,” said Miles Richardson, then-president of the Council of the Haida Nation.
Over the next three months, the country watched as Haida community members and their allies stood their ground. Seventy-two blockaders were arrested, including several Indigenous Elders. But the Haida succeeded in defending the forest. In 1988, approximately 1,470 sq. km of Haida Gwaii was transformed into the South Moresby National Park Reserve, which was later renamed the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.
1. Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust. Athlii Gwaii Legacy Trust, www.aglt.ca/.
2. Clarke, Brennan. Flashbacks to B.C. History: Haida Leaders Block Lyell Island Logging Road. The Globe and Mail, 28 Oct. 2010, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/flashbacks-to-bc-history/article1215732/.
3. Glavin, Terry. Indians Halt Lyell Logging. The Vancouver Sun, 30 Oct. 1985, www.newspapers.com/image/495326714/.
4. Jisgang, Nika Collison. Athlii Gwaii: Upholding Haida Law on Lyell Island. Locarno Press, 2018.
5. Loggers Confront Haida Blockade. CBC Digital Archives, 2 Nov. 1985, www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/loggers-confront-haida-blockade.
6. O’Hara, Jane. The Battle for an Island Forest. Maclean's, 9 Dec. 1985, archive.macleans.ca/article/1985/12/9/the-battle-for-an-island-forest.
7. Pynn, Larry. Lyell Island: 25 Years Later. Wilderness Committee, 17 Nov. 2010, www.wildernesscommittee.org/news/lyell-island-25-years-later.