Paradise Won: The Struggle to Create Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
by Elizabeth May
I picked up this book as I wanted to learn more about Moresby Island and didn’t realise there are (at least) two Moresby Islands in BC. There’s a private island near Sidney off the Saanich Peninsula – 1.2 miles wide with an estimated population of two people and cattle.
This book isn’t about Moresby Island, it’s about South Moresby, the second largest of the Haida Gwaii Islands that was made into a Canadian National Park in 1988. But really, this book isn’t even about South Moresby, it’s about Gwaii Haanas, the traditional home of the Haida people.
Paradise Won is written by Elizabeth May, well known for her time as the leader of the Green Party of Canada. The book recounts her days as a Senior Advisor to the Environment Minister and documents in meticulous detail the steps, triumphs and setbacks of creating a new National Park in Canada.
As a new Canadian, the book weaved together a number of cultural strings that had previously been separate. It helped me to understand Governmental history, the interplay between the provinces and agencies, and Elizabeth May’s advocacy for environmental issues. It was also a sad reminder of the bureaucratic nightmare First Nations people find themselves in under the Canadian government. In one notable passage, 30,000 books are pulped because they included photo captions as the history they communicated was seen as verboten by government officials.
There was a reasonable amount of representation for the Haida people in the book but I couldn’t help notice a bifurcation between the government bods and friends and those living in the places in question. May herself didn’t set foot in Haida Gwaii until the Park agreement was all but inked. While the achievement was remarkable and a testament to their hard work, the fizzy celebrations and pats on the back sit in stark contrast to the further years of negotiations and even threats to other assets including mineral rights.
One thing I did appreciate was the blow-by-blow account of the negotiation between the BC provincial and Federal governments. I hadn’t seen a large negotiation like this spelled out, and it was interesting to reverse engineer the tactics taken by each side to get what they wanted.