“The Fairy Creek watershed is a sacred place for many reasons. I have many stories about this area, from my own experiences as a child and young man and also stories that were told to me by my elders. It breaks my heart in half when I see these last remaining stands being ravaged so a few people can have jobs for a few more months.” – Bill Jones (Pacheedaht elder)
Vancouver Island’s ancient temperate rainforests have been disappearing at an alarming rate.
In 2009, it was estimated that 25% of the original old growth forests remained.
In 2015, it was estimated that 5% remained.
It is now estimated that only 1-3% remain.
After basking in one of these groves, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could destroy such incredible and intricate beauty.
Fairy Creek Protests – 2021
Growing up in BC, I’ve watched the forests around me get razed into waste dumps for my entire life. It’s pretty clear to anyone that drives into the backcountry, that forestry planning has not allowed new growth to catch up with timber demands.
Governments, corporations and industry lobby groups are all hooked on the old growth timber crack and behave as if there’s an endless supply of 1000 year old trees.
I’ve spent 10 years signing petitions, writing letters, going to protests and making phone calls. I haven’t seen a lot of positive changes. I don’t think it’s possible to address the deep social and environmental issues of the world while locked into a capitalistic power system. Capitalism operates on the premise of endless supply and infinite expansion.
The richest people in the world could feed, clothe, house and vaccinate every human on the planet with the wealth that they have accrued. Did you know that last year (2020) while so many starved and struggled, that the richest people in the world became 1.9 trillion dollars richer? The individuals who hold all of the power and the money don’t give a fuck about humanity as a whole. Bill and Melinda Gates are not qualified to make decisions for the masses, particularly in regards to climate change, as their very existence and the business models that they endorse are directly contributing to the entropy of the natural world. When they give up 90% of their wealth for the betterment of humanity and go live in a solar-powered 200 square-foot airstream, then they can start talking about how to fix the planet’s problems.
I’m at the point that I’m willing to be arrested.
Direct Action on Vancouver Island
There’s a long standing legacy of direct action on Vancouver Island; the most famous being in the Summer of 1993 at Clayoqout Sound, north of Tofino, where thousands of people gathered to protest extensive plans for clearcut logging. I was in Nelson at the time in my early teens and many of my friends made the trip down to the coast with their parents to participate in the protests. They returned with tales of mass arrests, confrontations with logging enthusiasts and hang-outs in the groves smoking weed and cigarettes.
In the end, over 900 people were arrested and it became one of the largest shows of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Joe Martin from the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation once said, “It’s the first time the whites and natives have gotten together on anything that’s worthwhile.”
It became known as the “War in the Woods.”
There was a another large protest in the Summer of 1991 known as “The Road Stops Here” that resulted in the creation of the Carmanah Walbran National Park, near Port Renfrew.
In Winter 2015/16, I participated in a small movement to oppose logging along the boundaries of the Carmanah Walbran Park. While down there, I was served an injunction notice by employees of the Teal Jones Group. When I attended a court hearing to dispute the injunction, I met Bill Jones, who has been a strong supporter of efforts to protect old growth on Pacheedaht territories since the original protests.
I also met members of the Friends of Carmanah Walbran, who have worked since the early 90’s to bring awareness about the destructiveness of industrial logging and hold educational tours of the area. You can read an interview I did with Bobby Arbess here.
The Fairy Creek Blockade
The Fairy Creek blockade was first erected in early August after a 17 year-old filmmaker from Washington state, who was remotely monitoring logging activities in real-time using a digital mapping system, noticed that roads were being built into the isolated area. After being notified, dozens of activists showed up and blocked the road with a giant slab of wood cut from an old growth stump. The blockade has been in place for almost 9 months now, and further camps and watch stations have been set up in 4 other areas in between Cowichan Lake and Port Renfrew.
The blockade has been visited by Pacheedaht community members and other Indigenous groups, including a youth group, who built a trail along the upper part of the Fairy Creek watershed.
A young man from Pacheedaht, Victor Peter, who has been named the next hereditary chief, also spends time at the Fairy Creek blockade.
The Rainforest Flying Squad describes itself as a “grassroots, nonviolent, direct-action campaign to protect endangered, old growth, temperate rain forests.”
Basically what that means is that there’s no hierarchical organization (just fluid leadership roles) and no corporations or NGO’s running things (they can donate and be involved but they can’t influence anyone’s actions in any way). Also, no tree spiking or anything that could potentially harm anyone.
Even though I feel strongly about the need for humans to collectively become more responsible in our relationship with the land and its resources, I don’t personally judge anyone for the jobs that they hold. Nearly all of my family is employed in some kind of resource extraction. I was born in a town built around a smeltering plant. My step-dad runs a small mill on Vancouver Island.
It upsets me when I hear particularly slothful individuals from comfortable middle-class families, who are stretching the limits of medicinal marijuana use, shit-talk industry workers; who often work long hours for mediocre pay in extreme weather conditions to support their families. At the same time, I find it strange when industry workers troll themselves out on the internet lauding the benefits of their precious resource sector jobs; when all I’ve ever heard my whole life from my friends and family is how messed up their bodies are from hard labour, how they’re constantly fucked over by the companies they work for and how awful places like the oil fields are.
If we can start directing our frustrations where it’s deserved: at the small wealthy groups of elitists who are screwing us all over for their own profit, then maybe we can work together and get power into the hands of the common people, where it belongs. Cause People Have the Power, right??
Injunctions Against the Protests
A court injunction is a legal document that prevents individuals or groups from doing a particular thing, like say blocking a road or chaining oneself to a piece of machinery. It’s often used by corporations to remove protesters from a blockade. In rare circumstances, First Nations have been granted injunctions to protect areas of land. In very rare circumstances, an injunction will be denied, as in the case of the Cathedral Grove protests, near Port Alberni, in 2004.
Protesters are usually still allowed to maintain a presence, yet are prevented by force from interfering in any way with industry activities. Those who continue to interfere will be arrested. To save time, and avoid too much drama, the RCMP will often process people on site, assembly-line style.
Most arrestees are released right away if they agree to various release conditions, generally a promise not to return to the blockade site or continue to impede the company’s operations in any way. In Clayoqout days, many people ended up under house arrest or in jail and with criminal records. These days, arrestees usually get charged with a civil offense, which doesn’t result in a criminal record.
Indigenous people in Canada experience higher rates of violence and death at the hands of police officers. Globally, indigenous activists are often targetted and assasinated. Hundreds of activists are murdered every year. Check out this article for more information.
On April 1 2021, Teal Jones Group were awarded a court injunction to force the removal of protestors from all of the blockade sites.
I was a bit nervous to go to the front lines alone. I was dropped off with all of my gear, the weather forecast was for rain and snow, and no-one knew when the police would be arriving to start arresting people. I ended up in a pod with a few other people who had also traveled alone and they were awesome! It was interesting how they had all found out and become compelled to join in: one guy saw a big protest in Victoria roll by and wanted to learn more, another person heard about it on TicTok and another through Chek News.
I attended a workshop for those who were willing to be arrested. Several dozens of people gathered in circles in a large gravel pit while the sun melted into the horizon. A man sporting black canvas pants, a black turtleneck sweater, black toque, black sunglasses and a grey bandana covering his face gave us detailed information on the support networks and strategies around the planned arrests. We were given information on decentralized leadership and were encouraged to form affinity groups. We were told that we should only carry our photo ID on us and leave everything else with our arrestee support person.
Part way through the workshop, a woman with a giant flop of curly red hair showed up and took over. While she was talking, the black-clad man dropped to the ground and started doing one-legged push-ups. I was like woa.
I was suddenly feeling as if I had jumped into the pages of a DMZ comic book.
I’ve had many issues over the years with internal dynamics on the front lines. Curmudgeonly individuals with big egos and a lot to prove can make it challenging to be involved. I also have a hard time being around chronic marijuana consumption. I often take time away from activism when my empathy bank fritzes out and wait until I can see the big picture again and can focus on the things that matter, like making the world a better place and connecting with amazing like-minded people.
I do recognize that the individuals who I find it the most challenging to be around are often the ones filling roles that no-one else can do or that no-one else wants to (like acting as a police liaison or spending six months at a camp through the middle of winter). I also recognize that it’s a privilege for me to duck in and out. There are many people in the world who don’t have that luxury, like Indigenous people in Columbia fighting mega-dams. Though given the option, I think it’s important to take breaks from activism. Lest I become the next nitpicking, curmudgeon, recreating the same oppressive bullshit that goes down in mainstream society on a micro scale. Then what’s the whole point of doing this all anyway, eh??
Ecocide = Suicide
Part of my own growing up process is not letting the few cranks that end up in activism take away from the many wonderful people that are also attracted to the movements I feel so passionate about. I think it’s good for people to know though, that the scene can be quite intense and hard to navigate at times. Sometimes people who are attracted the frontlines are struggling deeply with their own personal traumas.
Activism might seem like a dream at first when you’re buzzing and meeting a lot of unique and wonderful people, though after a bit of time, things can sometimes get ugly. Some guy masquerading as a kind and compassionate person may take advantage of you. Older activists may talk down to you, condescend you and act all haughty. People will have blowouts with each other and internet discussions can become quite scathing. I try to use these situations as training grounds for egalitarian ways of being, and to practice asserting myself in healthy ways. I try to do it all from a place of love. When I can’t do that anymore, I take a break, go home, watch German Schlager videos on YouTube, drink some kava kava and zone out from the world for a while.
Sometimes I wonder if we’ll look back on these times in the same way we look back on the genocides and wars of the 20th century. Will we watch footage of environmental destruction and cry together, wondering how we could have been so horrible and short-sighted? Will corporate overlords be put on trial for crimes agaist humanity?
When I first held my newborn nephew in my arms, I cried. Part of those tears were joy and part were fear and worry. How much more will we rob from the generations to come?
I left the camp to stock up on supplies and came back the following week with a van I purchased off of Craigslist for $500. After the second night, I woke up to a misty morning just above the 5km mark on the main blockade road. The doors to the van were iced shut, the windshield was a skating rink and there were patches of snow on the highest tips of the mountain ranges flanking the winding road. I turned the van on long enough to unthaw the doors. I threw on my gumboots and a thick winter jacket and hiked up to a small trail leading down to the Renfrew Creek. I followed the blue markers into a dense grove of towering moss-covered trees and then hiked along the rocky river bed until I found a spot where the sun was trickling in. In seeing the trees, breathing the dewy air and listening to the river wind it’s way down to the inlet, I reminded myself why I was there. A little song bird fluttered in and out of the rushing water.
Solidarity with First Nations
I got an invite to go to Eden Grove. I travelled in the back of the truck to keep social distancing and felt like I was back in the Kootenays in the 80s.
There was a whole other encampment at Eden Grove with spatterings of trailers and tents on the road leading up to main trail. We hiked into the trail along a newly built boardwalk and ran into a man carrying a gigantic, half-finished oil painting of one of the large trees. Deeper into the trail, we found his easel, which he left there overnight and then returned to in the morning to continue his work. He told us he had been appointed the resident painter and comes down into the grove when he’s not working his other job to do portraits of the massive trees.
As a person of European descent, it’s prickly putting myself on the frontlines in a scenario where a First Nations Band Council has made the decision to partner up with industry. Many First Nations and other remote communities are financially dependent on the logging of old growth and other environmentally destructive industries.
In September 2020, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), who reflect a broad representation of BC First Nations, asked for the BC Provincial Government’s help in moving away from reliance on old growth logging and acknowledged the importance of the Fairy Creek blockade.
Check out the full document here
Great talk by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlQ7u3WrZig
We are still living in the after effects of the policies of the Harper government
Most First Nations communities in British Columbia have two systems of law. One is orchestrated by the elected Band Council members, and the other is orchestrated by the hereditary leaders of the nation (sometimes there is overlap and sometimes there are multiple hereditary leaders).
It’s impossible to make any broad statements about Indigenous governship or community needs, though generally the elected chiefs have more decision making power over reserve lands and hereditary chiefs have more jurisdiction over unceded lands that are off the reservation. Hereditary laws are more ancient and the Band Councils were formed during the process of colonization.
The differences in these two systems came to the foreground when huge conflicts arose after Coastal Gaslink pushed through their LNG project on Wet’suwet’en lands.
For more information about First Nations governance, check out this article.
For many years, I thought of my ancestors as hard working, salt of the earth pioneers who escaped difficult circumstances in the Old World and carved their new lives into rugged, uninhabited lands. Even when reading books or watching TV shows about the experiences and perspectives of Indigenous people, I wasn’t able to reflect upon how that applied to my own existence.
The history that we’re taught in school focuses on a few hundred years of colonization and erases thousands of years of vibrant cultural history that existed before Europeans arrived. I traveled to Japan because I wanted to experience a culture completely different than my own, not recognizing the cultural diversity all around me.
Opening up to First Nation’s culture can come with the facing of uncomfortable truths about our own identities as the inheritors of an oppressive and genocidal power system that continues to this day. It also opens us up to our own loss of culture and spirit through christianization, industrialization and the many tragedies of the 20th century in Europe.
British Columbia wasn’t colonized until the mid-1800’s and most of the land here is considered unceded, which means it was never officially absorbed into the Commonwealth by any kind of treaty or official agreement with the Crown. What we think of as crown lands are actually unceded First Nations territories. What we think of as private lands are also technically unceded. Even where treaties were signed, most of them were not properly honoured. There is a long legacy of lies and broken promises when it comes to the government’s interactions with Indigenous people in Canada.
The pollution and exploitation of these lands has occurred in a relatively short period of time. Previous to colonization, the people’s of these lands lived from an animistic worldview where everything was interconnected and plants and animals were honoured. Land ownership as we understand it today didn’t exist. The land belonged to itself.
Before the proliferation of christianity, many people in Europe also shared an animistic worldview.
Indigenous world map: https://native-land.ca
Pre-christian map of Europe: here
I left the camp again and while I was back home, on April 13, a public announcement was made by the Pacheedaht Band Council asking the protesters to leave. My initial reaction was to no longer be involved in any capacity.
The following day, Bill Jones also made a public statement. In it, he says: “I will continue standing for the land until I am dead”.
Here’s another letter from the Pacheedaht Band Council in 2018, where they discuss land use issues and their need for financial support. I think it’s important to understand the realities of how cutting off a community’s availability to natural resources through blockading or even park protection has impacts on their livelihood.
Here’s a video of Bill’s niece Roxy Jones speaking, where she states: “It would be nice to have a Pacheedaht First Nations National Park to help us establish our own eco-tourism for the benefit and wellness and prosperity of my nation.”
I also came across this link to a revenue sharing document signed between the BC government and the Pacheedaht First Nations in 2017. I think the following sections are really important to note:
11.1 Non-interference. Pacheedaht First Nation agrees it will not support or participate in any acts that frustrate, delay, stop or otherwise physically impede or interfere with provincially authorized forest activities.
11.2 Cooperation and Support. Pacheedaht First Nation will promptly and fully cooperate with and provide its support to British Columbia in seeking to resolve any action that might be taken by a member of First Nation that is inconsistent with this Agreement.
While regular citizens of Canada have the freedom to protest and express their dissent openly in the political arena, the Pacheedaht community as a whole is legally bound to comply with forestry activities.
I see how First Nations communities become pawns to various interest groups and I don’t want to contribute to that in any way.
In the same way that I think it’s important to be compassionate towards settlers on the frontlines who are struggling with various personal challenges; it’s especially important to show compassion and understanding towards the First Nations communities who are struggling with many complex issues that we don’t fully understand.
We also need to take into consideration how our own presence and the presence of our ancestors has contributed to these issues.
This talk between two young First Nations women with ancestral ties to Pacheedaht is great.
“Part of our culture is having humility and self awareness and a broader awareness for everything around us. We spend so much time reflecting and I don’t see that a lot in colonial culture. I don’t see a lot of self awareness or pause to reflect because the world is so constant, like you’re just constantly, like you wake up, go to work or school, and come home, you’re exhausted, repeat. There’s just so little time. Oh and you’re supposed to have a social life. I think if anything, as a take away, really just ruminating on these things, doing your own personal research so that when our people position themselves as leaders and actors on our territory and step into their ancestral responsibilities, that people are better prepared to stand with them and understand why and where they’re coming from.”
“People have to understand the way that nations are positioned to pursue resource extraction. There’s no-one willing to just trust and work with our people. There’s still that ingrained racial stereotyping and biases of that we’re uncivilized and can’t be trusted. People really need to work to confront the ways they’ve been socialized to believe all those things. Because essentially it’s going to be about forming relationships, trusting people and having accountability to those relationships. And to alleviate that pressure on nations we have to be building towards something else. We have to be opening the third option to rock and a hard place. Like suffering your literal monetary poverty but also poverty in relationships, poverty in just that ability to be part of a strong and healthy community. Social issues persist in our communities because of the ways that colonialism fragments and displaces our people. To work actively against environmental and social issues, definitely take lead from the people who have literally been battling both since the crown first came to these territories. So, I think reflection will be really powerful.”
To be continued…
If you have something to add to this conversation, I’d love to hear from you. Email Kyla-Rose firstname.lastname@example.org