British Columbia

Vancouver Island First Nations call for deferral of old-growth logging at protest sites

Three B.C. First Nations want forestry workers to temporarily stop cutting old-growth trees on southern Vancouver Island while they create their own forestry management plan and have submitted the request to the B.C. government.

Request made by Huu-ay-aht, Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations requires provincial approval

Protester Diana Mongeau sits at the foot of an ancient yellow cedar in the Fairy Creek watershed. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Three B.C. First Nations want forestry workers to temporarily stop cutting old-growth trees on southern Vancouver Island while they create their own forestry management plan and have submitted the request to the B.C. government.

On Saturday, the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Pacheedaht First Nations formally gave notice to the province of their decision to defer old-growth logging for two years in the Fairy Creek and the Central Walbran areas.

The provincial government will need to grant the request before the logging stops.

In a statement, Premier John Horgan said the government recognizes the Nations are exercising their constitutionally protected Indigenous interests over the protected area, and is willing to enter into discussions regarding their request.

"I know the three Nations are ready to enter into these discussions in a spirit of good faith, and with a goal of achieving a mutually satisfactory resolution. Our government is as well," Horgan said.

The notice comes after more than 185 protesters have been arrested in the area since RCMP began enforcing a court injunction in mid-May to allow forestry company Teal-Jones to continue logging the trees in its 595-square-kilometre tenure.

"All current logging will be put on hold," said Huu-ay-aht Chief Coun. Robert J. Dennis Sr. speaking Monday on CBC Radio. He said the hold also applies to road building in the region.

Protesters hold a banner as they stand in front of stacks of lumber during a demonstration against old-growth logging, at Teal-Jones Group sawmill in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday, May 30, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In a statement issued June 7, the three First Nations say they are "committed to developing and implementing world-class integrated resource management plans" that draw on the teachings of ancestors, the wisdom of elders and input from citizens and valued partners.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to tell the public here's what we're doing, and here's how we're doing it, and ... have standards that exceed provincial standards," said Dennis.

John Innes, dean of forestry at the University of British Columbia, said it's unlikely the government won't grant the deferral. 

"If they did decide not to grant it, they would actually be going contrary to the wishes of the First Nations, and that would be inconsistent with reconciliation principles and with the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government has said that they will uphold," he said.

The statement says the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Pacheedaht will be transparent during the planning process and their leaders committed to providing opportunities for input as long as it follows "a process outlined by the nations."

Dennis says the people not being that respectful to the First Nations right now are the protesters who, he says, are on Indigenous land uninvited.

"If you respect First Nations in what they stand for, if you respect First Nations Aboriginal title and if you respect First Nations people, period, you would honour their request not to protest," said Dennis.

"You're not protesting First Nations ...  you're protesting against provincial principles and values."

RCMP assess how to remove two protesters chained to a tree stump at an anti-logging blockade on southern Vancouver Island on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 (Jen Osborne/Canadian Press)

In their statement, the First Nations ask that, while work is paused on this particular tenure, everyone else allow forestry operations in other parts of their territories to continue without disruption.

 "All nations have been cutting second [growth] with no concern so we will continue with that," said Dennis.

An activist known as Lou gets ready to defy an court injunction near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island by sitting in a dory in a tree on Sunday May 30, 2021. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

The announcement comes as dozens of protesters remain embedded in the area.

RCMP say they are aware of the statement from the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Pacheedaht First Nations, but have not been advised of any changes in regards to the current harvest.

An RCMP spokesperson said the injunction order with the police enforcement clause is set to last until midnight on September 26.

"The order is a mandatory direction from the court to the police and so the RCMP is still required to enforce the order."

RCMP say there was no enforcement scheduled Sunday, so no arrests were made. A total of 11 people were arrested in the Fairy Creek Watershed area Monday for breaching the injunction, and two were arrested for obstruction. 

In a statement, Teal Jones says it "acknowledges the ancestral territories of all First Nations on which we operate 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," said the company.

On June 4, the three First Nations signed the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration to take back their power over their ḥahahuułi (traditional territory).

The declaration acknowledges the nations' sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one) that will inform a new forest management plan.

It also states third parties, be they companies, governments or individuals, have no right to speak on behalf of the nations or for its resources.

An unnamed camp in the hills near the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island where activists are protesting the logging of old growth forests on June 1, 2021. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC News)

With files from The Early Edition, On The Island and Chad Pawson