A Perspective on Spirituality and the Environment from Haida Gwaii

The following quotes are from April Churchill published in a Globe and Mail Panel titled “FAITH EXCHANGE: Nature in harmony with faith” facilitated by Guy Nicholson.  April Churchill is the Vice President of the Haida Nation.

The Haida culture is based in our spiritual, mental and physical relationship to the land, waters and all life forces. The very core of our culture is our spiritual connections, which govern our use of the Creator’s gifts.

. . .

We well know the sweat of our brow. We follow our ancient harvest calendar to provide for self and community. Harvesting, preparing and preserving for the year takes a great deal of work and community effort from the spring through winter. On Haida Gwaii, our people are working intimately with all life forms: seaweeds, clams, cockles, all species of fish, sea cucumber, geoduck, mussels, octopus, to name a few of the ocean foods. The forest gifts include trees, medicines, berries and greens.

All is connected. We watch the bears, birds and tide feed the forest and lands. Everything depends on the well-being of the other. The inevitable oil spills will kill and poison the ocean and waterway that feeds the oceans and even the land and forests will suffer. We have lived through ice ages on Haida Gwaii. We know if we care for Haida Gwaii, she will care for us. We also know from millenniums of experience that, when we are not respectful of the Creator’s gifts, there are grave consequences, as our oral histories and stories tell us.

. . .

The difficulty is that everyone’s lives are so full, it is difficult to think about matters that don’t seem to directly affect one’s self. Bad things happen when good people do nothing, yet the good people of Canada live in a world of stress and trying to deal with one’s own life and problems. Media coverage has left the general population believing that first nations are “radical” and “adversarial” people. Canada has changed its language from “in the interest of Canadians”  to “in the interest of national security.” We are not an adversarial people. We work closely with the province of British Columbia to manage the lands of Haida Gwaii – just the other day, there was an announcement by the province and the Haida Nation jointly making a determination for the annual allowable cut in Haida Gwaii’s forest. See haidanation.ca to see that we work with others.


In some media, people who oppose the Northern Gateway project have been characterized as being against jobs, while those who support it are for jobs. We are not against jobs or development; in fact, we have just established a corporation that makes respectful use of Haida Gwaii and her gifts in shellfish farming, timber harvest, renewable energy and eco-tourism. But all of this depends on healthy ecosystems. One spill from an oil tanker could destroy that. The economic burden of the Indian Act and deliberate removal of the Haida and other aboriginal people from Canada’s economy has resulted in terrible social and health problems that all taxpayers are burdened with. Just as we are returning to our rightful place in the economy and regaining our ability to lead productive lives, we find ourselves playing defence yet again.


Everyone has influence on at least 200 people. People who do not live on the coast have no idea what this project will do to us or understand why all of B.C., including all the communities of Haida Gwaii, oppose this project. Social media work to send short messages. We really believe that our position is for the well-being of Canada and her people and, in fact, all of the Earth and its people. Our principles of sustainability, balance, care and respect are needed now more than they have ever been. We have a story of the hummingbird who was caught in a forest fire. While all the others were escaping, the little hummingbird kept flying in and out of the fire, dropping a small droplet of water each time. When asked what he was doing, he said, “I am doing what I can.” That is all that each of us can do. One drop – one letter – one e-mail – one prayer – we just all need to do what we can.

. . .

The Haida are part of the aboriginal community in Canada. But, remember, we are individual nations of people and none of us can speak on behalf of all aboriginal people – only to that which we know.


There is enough for everyone, and I believe that all of our spiritual understandings include taking care of each other and that the poor are given for our well-being and are our responsibility. Thank you for including me in the conversation.

1 thought on “A Perspective on Spirituality and the Environment from Haida Gwaii

  1. Pingback: Haida Gwaii | lanock

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