Disruption of Traditional Haida Political Customs: Where do Indigenous Communities Draw the Line?

August 13th of 2016, the Haida society faced significant changes within their traditional political structures. Due to the irresponsible choices of eight Haida men the community in Masset B.C were forced to reevaluate their hereditary chieftainship customs. Historically hereditary chiefs are born into this privileged title due to their ancestral bloodline and this responsibility is passed down from one generation to the next. According to Haida law a Haida citizen can only claim titles of a hereditary chief after potlatching their chief name with witnesses attending the ceremony. At this potlatch they are gifted a copper plaque stating their societal, moral and familial obligations to not only their clan but the Haida society as an entire. The Chiefs will then respect their clan members by representing their interests and follow the influence of their clan matriarchs. Meaning that every important decision will be discussed with the ladies held of high esteem within their clan.

Eight men from the Northern part of Haida Gwaii signed a letter addressed to Sheryl Young, the Secretary of the Board of the NEB (National Energy Board), proclaiming their support for the Northern Gateway Pipeline. This number of supportive hereditary chiefs was viewed as a significant success to the National Energy Board because the Haida people are made up of “22 clans, each overseen by hereditary chiefs” (Jeff Lee). The letter composed by the eight men stated that they as hereditary chiefs of the Masset community support the project of the Northern Gateway Pipeline. They enforced their approval by stating that this pipeline would be beneficial for the economic growth of both British Columbia and Alberta provinces. These men signed as hereditary chiefs when in fact only four out of the eight have rightfully claimed that title through potlatch. By falsely using the term hereditary, the men jeopardized their integrity as Haida citizens and left the community with a hard decision to make.

With intense feelings of betrayal, two clans from Masset British Columbia decided to host a “shaming feast” and denounce their chiefs of their title, privilege, and honor. The clans were able to achieve this through the commonality of political views regarding the pipeline and they used their emotional and moral attachments to the cause to justify their stripping of the two chieftainships. The objective of this ceremony was to regain their dignity as a society who is predominately opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. This ceremony consisted of 500 witnesses who were supporting the cause for obtaining firm political control within their clans and Haida Nation.

This event highlights contemporary issues. Indigenous communities are battling in regards to their land and environment preservation. It is evident that colonial views and values are still influential even within the most traditional aspects of Indigenous societies. The Haida have taken a strong stance as an entire nation to halt the Northern Gateway Pipeline, a project that has the potential to ruin food resources and sacred ecological spaces.

In response to the publication of this signed supportive letter, twelve other hereditary chiefs from both Skidegate and Old Masset Village signed a document portraying the “true” intentions of the Haida people. The hereditary chiefs corrected the previous document sent into the National Energy Board by stating that the four Hereditary Chiefs and four Haida citizens mentioned in the letter do not respectfully represent the views of their clan nor the Haida Nation and their signatures are a reflection of personal standings.

President of the Council of the Haida Nation on March 31st, of 2016 announced publically and in an immediate newsletter to the communities that he wants to clarify that “the paid lobbyist” within their nation “do not speak for the Haida Nation” and that “[they] do not condone their behaviours or tactics of Enbridge which is backing them” (Peter Lantin).

Where do Indigenous people draw the line for internal colonialism? What is justifiable? And furthermore when are we allowed to stop using colonialism as an excuse to pardon poor, disruptive decisions of individuals within our communities?

I think this is a perfect example of Indigenous resistance. Stripping the two chiefs of their hereditary title August of this summer is a step in the right direction that demonstrates zero tolerance for disrespect. By challenging these men, the Haida have now established a ground for tackling future issues regarding settler-colonial, capitalistic influence.



Works Cited

Canada. Council of the Haida Nation. March 31st- For Immediate Release. By Peter Lantin. Skidegate: Haida Nation, 2016. Print.


Lee, Jeff. “Haida Strip Two Hereditary Chiefs of Titles for Supporting Enbridge.” Vancouver Sun.                                     Vancouver Sun, 17 Aug. 2016. Web. 15 Sept. 2016. <http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/haida-strip-two-hereditary-chiefs-of-titles-for-supporting-enbridge&gt;.


News, Jeff Lee Postmedia. “Haida Clan Strips Titles from Two Hereditary Chiefs for Supporting Northern Gateway Pipeline.” National Post Haida Clan Strips Titles from Two Hereditary Chiefs for Supporting Northern Gatewaypipeline Comments. National Post, 18 Aug. 2016. Web. 15 Sept. 2016. <http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/haida-clan-strip-titles-from-two-hereditary-chiefs-for-supporting-northern-gateway-pipeline&gt;.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: