Three First Nations on southern Vancouver Island released a statement today saying they are taking back decision-making responsibilities for their traditional territories.
They have also formally given the British Columbia government notice they want to defer old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed and Central Walbran Valley for two years and have repeated a request for everyone to respect their authority, including people who have been blocking logging and related activity.
“Since time immemorial, Huu-ay-aht Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations have been stewards of the forest, fisheries and all resources within their ḥahahuułi (traditional territories),” said the statement. “For more than 150 years they have watched as others decided what was best for their lands, water and people. This declaration brings this practice to an immediate end.”
Hereditary and elected representatives of the three nations signed the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration on Friday saying they would be guided by the sacred principles of ?iisaak (utmost respect), ?uu?ałuk (taking care of) and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is connected).
“We are too often the last to benefit from what is taken out and the last to be asked what must be put back in,” the declaration said. “It is time for our principles, authority and responsibilities to be respected so that we can work for win-win stewardship solutions to heal our lands, our waters and our people for the benefit of our current and future generations — this will take time.”
Third parties — including companies, organizations, other governments and individuals — have no right to speak on behalf of the First Nations or the lands, waters and resources in their traditional territories, it said.
“For third parties to be welcome in our Hahoulthee, they must respect our governance and stewardship, our sacred principles, and our right to economically benefit from our resources.”
The statement distributed today said that on Saturday the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht and Pacheedaht First Nations gave formal notice telling the province to defer old-growth logging in Fairy Creek and the Central Walbran while they prepare their plans.
“Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht have committed to developing and implementing world-class integrated resource management plans,” it said. “These plans will draw on the teachings of their ancestors, wisdom of Elders, input from citizens and valued partners, and the best forestry, fishery and integrated resource management advice available.”
The nations’ process will be open and transparent and will include opportunities for input, it said. While it is underway, they want people to allow forestry operations in other parts of their territories that they and the province have approved to proceed without disruption.
Representatives of the Pacheedaht First Nation, whose territory includes Fairy Creek, were unavailable for interviews by publication time.
Huu-ay-aht elected Chief Coun. Robert J. Dennis Sr. said he hopes people recognize that First Nations people have a very sincere interest in how resources and forestry are managed in their territories.
“I hope that they will begin to understand that we do have a different plan than the way it’s managed now, and that plan will unfold over the next two years,” Dennis said. “The main thing is it will be the First Nations that decide what is to be logged and what is not to be logged, and it will be based on their values and principles.”
Working together, the three First Nations provided a list to the province of areas where they want logging to be deferred.
“We did agree that we would see all logging operations cease in the Fairy Creek area, except for second growth,” Dennis said.
“The logging in that area where they’re protesting about the old growth, that would cease. There would be no logging done. Everything would stop. The whole nine yards of road building and everything related to old-growth logging.”
The Rainforest Flying Squad and other contacts in the protest camps didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. But on its Facebook page a statement suggested the blockade would continue.
“Premier Horgan must act rapidly to defer logging across the 1.3 million hectares of at-risk old growth identified by the Sierra Club of BC. The province must come to the table with conservation financing and economic alternatives for First Nations, and create a just transition to a second growth industry,” the statement said. “Until these things happen, at the invitation of Elder Bill Jones, the Rainforest Flying Squad will continue to stand our ground to defend our last ancient forests.”
The Rainforest Flying Squad said in an Instagram post the announcement was a step in the right direction but more details are needed. They want precise maps of the areas in question.
The RCMP have arrested more than 170 people for contravening a court injunction against blocking logging and road-building in Tree Farm Licence 46, which includes Fairy Creek and where the Teal-Jones Group is the licence holder.
A spokesperson for the B.C. RCMP said in an email that for now the police will continue enforcing the injunction, though they are aware of the statements from the three First Nations and the premier.
"The RCMP is engaged with stakeholders and has not been advised of any changes in the current harvest," they said, noting that the injunction the BC Supreme Court issued lasts until Sept. 26. "The order is a mandatory direction from the court to the police and so the RCMP is still required to enforce the order."*
In a prepared statement today, Teal-Jones said it acknowledges ancestral territories wherever it operates and is committed to reconciliation. “We will abide by the declaration issued today, and look forward to engaging with the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations as they develop Integrated Resource Forest Stewardship Plans.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan released a statement saying the government welcomes the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration and the deferral request. The nations have constitutionally protected Indigenous interests within their traditional territories, he said.
“We honour the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration,” Horgan said. “We are pleased to enter into respectful discussions with the nations regarding their request. We understand the request must be addressed expeditiously, and we will ensure a prompt response.”
Adam Olsen, the BC Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, said in the legislature that too many questions remain to be answered and that more deferrals of old-growth logging are needed to avoid more conflicts like the one at Fairy Creek.
“Fairy Creek has become a flash point in this province,” he said. “It’s a symbol of this government’s desire to continue to raze our ancient forests.”
Torrance Coste, the national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee advocacy group, said it’s positive the First Nations are asserting control and that more deferrals of old-growth logging are coming.
Still there are many questions about what exactly is up for deferral and what will happen with already approved road building. “There’s buckets of questions,” he said. “There’s lots of excitement, but lots of need for clarity.”
The dispute is about more than two watersheds, Coste said, adding that forests need to be managed in a way that ensures their ecological integrity instead of continuing to exploit them for the value of their timber as the province has for so long.
The deferrals will help bring the temperature down on the dispute and allow needed nation-to-nation discussions to happen, he said.
Katrine Conroy, the minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, said the government cares about old growth and the number one recommendation of the Old Growth Strategic Review panel was to make decisions within a government-to-government framework involving both the provincial and Indigenous governments.
“That’s exactly what’s happening,” Conroy said. “We are committed to reconciliation and true reconciliation means meaningful partnerships, so we are moving forward with deferrals and we will have more news in the coming days, and we will have more deferrals this summer.”
Conroy later told reporters the main factor the government considers in granting a deferral is the wishes of the Indigenous nation on whose traditional territory the forest is, but it also takes into consideration how the decision will affect workers, companies and at-risk ecosystems.
“From our perspective it’s not a choice of the economy or the environment, it’s not either-or,” she said. “It’s bringing people to the table, bringing them together so we can have those important discussions about how we can move forward.”
Conroy has said the government is providing funding for the Pacheedaht's Integrated Resource Stewardship plan and that the process for compensating Teal-Jones wouldn’t kick in until a couple of years after a deferral is granted.
Conroy said she couldn’t say how many deferrals may be coming elsewhere in the province, but more are in process.
“We’re looking at all of the different requests that are coming in from Indigenous nations, we’re looking at maps, we’re looking at areas that have that critical biodiversity that’s at risk,” she said. “We’re talking to environmentalists, we’re talking to the communities, because it’s not just as easy as saying ‘we’re going with that one, that’s it, it’s deferred,’ there’s a whole process.”
*Story updated on June 8 at 9:53 a.m. to include response from the RCMP.