Critique of “Inside the Pacheedaht Nation’s stand on Fairy Creek logging blockades” in The Narwhal, July 1, 2021 (and reply)
Letter of July 19, 2021
Dear Ms. Cox (writer of the article) and Ms. Gilchrist (editor-in-chief of The Narwhal):
I am a Narwhal reader, an admirer of both of your work, and I donated to the Narwhal society last year. I’m also a supporter of land defenders and forest protectors, well, everywhere, but especially in the area known as the Fairy Creek Blockade. I’ve organized countless actions in Victoria to support the movement and will continue to do so.
As a mother of two teenage girls, I have a vested interest in preserving the last of British Columbia’s (and the world’s) ancient trees. I have the same vested interest in preserving any last traces of democracy we have left in BC and Canada.
I’m writing because I found the article of July 1, 2021, entitled Inside the Pacheedaht Nation’s stand on Fairy Creek logging blockades, to be incomplete, overly one-sided, and missing key details and context. Perhaps a future Narwhal article or articles might explore some of these points below.
Climate crisis: Your article came out the day the most dangerous and destructive heatwave in Canadian history had abated. The 40+ degree heat in most of BC in the days preceding was a shockingly real climate change consequence. I wish your article had emphasized the seriousness of the climate crisis we find ourselves in and the importance of old growth forests to mitigate climate change effects.
I realize you do say that BC is on its last “less than three per cent of the province’s biggest, most ecologically important old-growth.” I wish, again, that emphasis had been placed on the direness of that statistic, especially in the context of why forest protectors are there.
Asking the protesters to leave: You write that the “Pacheedaht First Nation’s elected leadership — and Frank Queesto Jones, the Hereditary Chief recognized by the Nation — have asked, several times, for the protesters to leave,” including their request that the blockaders leave “because of possible fire danger.” (The blockaders have not used fires since the heatwave.)
In light of these statements, I was disappointed that you did not explore the evidence that Premier John Horgan’s office had orchestrated the writing and releasing of the widely reported first letter in mid-April from Jeff Jones and Frank Queesto Jones asking for “third parties” to leave. (https://www.capitaldaily.ca/news/province-pacheedaht-fairy-creek-statement-coordination).
To this day, that Jeff and Frank Queesto Jones letter is one of the only pieces of communication that has come out of the NDP government to justify their inaction on implementing any of their old growth promises. It characterizes the continued logging of old growth forests as a decision made by First Nations groups when, in fact, it is the result of NDP policy. The government making use of a small First Nation’s request, for grotesque public relations purposes, should, in my opinion, be called out.
Forestry contracts: More than 140 very poor First Nations in BC negotiate with the government and forest industry ((https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/natural-resource-stewardship/consulting-with-first-nations/first-nations-negotiations/forestry-agreements). There is a gross imbalance of power in these contracts. It is notable that the NDP do not negotiate treaties with First Nations groups but insist on Forest and Range agreements that do not confer land title or Indigenous sovereignty but, instead, position the First Nations groups as junior partners in logging operations.
As Adam Olsen tweeted on July 8, 2021, (https://twitter.com/AdamPOlsen/status/1413212600247087107): “Minister @MurrayRankinNDP knows the BC Treaty process was designed to extinguish Aboriginal title. It’s been the goal of the Crown governments for decades and at the core of Indigenous-Crown conflict. So, as distressing as it is, it is not surprising that as a provincial treaty negotiator in the late 1990s @MurrayRankinNDP was advancing ideas to the federal gov’t to “sweeten the pot” for Indigenous Nations to give up their title. But these actions are not only in the past. The Forest & Range Consultation & Revenue Sharing Agreements, that @MurrayRankinNDP is signing as Minister today, are also Aboriginal rights and title-denying agreements.”
Here is the Pacheedaht First Nation Forest & Range Consultation and Revenue Sharing Agreement: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/natural-resource-stewardship/consulting-with-first-nations/agreements/pacheedaht_signed_february_17_2021_1.pdf. This is ARTICLE 11 — ASSISTANCE:
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.
So they’re not allowed to be critical of what is going on and the self-determination your article mentions is significantly curtailed. They get a tiny percentage of the money from industrial-scale logging on their lands… as long as they play nicely. (Here’s an example of how tiny the tiny percentage is: David Broadland in Focus on Victoria examines one such contractual situation in which, over a three-year period, Teal Jones will get at least $132 million vs the Pacheedaht’s possible take of less than $350,000! Not even the price of one house! https://www.focusonvictoria.ca/forests/72/)
In the section about the Pacheedaht’s mill you explain they basically process a small number of logs from the industrial-scale clearcutting operations that Teal Jones and Andersen carry out. “‘The big mills often don’t want those logs,’ the [mill] manager says, ‘because their varying shapes make processing more difficult and expensive.’” Another dire statistic connects with that less than complete statement: “According to data published by the BC ministry of forests, approximately 52 percent of the logs removed from BC forests become wood chips or sawdust.” (David Broadland again, https://www.focusonvictoria.ca/forests/81/).
So the central point of the situation is that the Pacheedaht have signed on to a colonial agreement (trivial share of the value, no genuine self-determination) as the only way to not be destitute. That’s a path they are steered down by the BC NDP and it’s at the cost of destroying old growth ecosystems.
This is exactly what the protesters are protesting.
There is a lot of accord between what protesters want and what Jeff Jones wants. An important point of your article is that the Pacheedaht mill is generating income and jobs. Community-led selective harvesting and regenerative forestry practices are indeed the way forward, not giant corporate industrialists decimating the land. So, for example, the First Nation wants to harvest and are insisting on their right to do so. Great. As your article suggests, their practices at the mill are sustainable in terms of using ALL the wood (rather than the vast waste created by corporations). But the Pacheedaht operation is super small scale. And as your article also says, they are currently buying trees from Teal Jones.
And, again, Teal Jones clearcuts HUGE swaths of trees and gets HUGELY disproportionate revenue in those revenue-sharing agreements entered into with the Province.
So it’s critical to more deeply understand the Pacheedaht’s and other First Nations’ intentions and encourage community-based local selective harvesting and regenerative forestry practices and get the corporations out of there. It would be a win-win for all. But the government would need to do actual consulting and commit to “changing the paradigm,” rather than just cynically saying that’s what they do.
Your article quotes Jeff Jones as if imitating the protesters: “‘Oh you know what, we [the protesters] want to halt old-growth logging. And when we do that we want to halt the First Nations’ rights to harvest cedar for cultural purposes.’”
I am very sorry that Jeff Jones believes that about the protesters. The forest protectors, who stand with Elder Bill Jones and other Indigenous leadership, very much want First Nations to use their lands and forests in culturally and ecologically appropriate ways (these are actually inseparable). One of the demands of the Rainforest Flying Squad, for instance, is for “the government [to] immediately shift all forestry operations to sustainable management of the silvicultural land-base as a source of long-term employment in local and First Nations communities” (https://laststandforforests.com/news-media/rain4est-flying-squad-deploys-new-blockade-to-halt-road-building-into-the-last-ancient-forests-of-bugaboo-creek/). Many forest protectors are explicitly aligned with the landback movement, a movement for Indigenous self-determination and land stewardship (https://landback.org/manifesto/).
Environmentalists, blockaders, and land defenders are not opposed to sustainable, second or third growth forestry, or against First Nations using old growth for their cultural purposes. To paint them in this light is polarizing and needlessly increases conflict and misunderstanding.
RCMP and erosion of democratic rights: Your article states that the “RCMP are on the scene because forestry company Teal-Jones was granted a court injunction in mid-April to remove protesters blocking access to the company’s approved logging cut block in Fairy Creek.” That is a far too generous description of their presence. What about extremely dangerous extraction tactics by the RCMP, such as using excavators and saws that send sparks flying? What about the thin blue line patches, the gang enforcement units, and the brutal methods of the Community Industry Response Group (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/20/canada-indigenous-land-defenders-police-documents)? What about the targeting of Indigenous people and people of colour for the most egregious treatment? Why are peaceful, unarmed, nonviolent people being criminalized for doing the job the premier promised to do? What about the tens of millions of tax dollars being spent? It’s important, in my opinion, to emphasize their harmful and often violent presence and to highlight this gross affront to our democracy.
And this one is ripe for the picking; there is almost nothing out there: what about the disturbing conflict of interest situation that exists when the pension fund for the RCMP bought and owns Timberwest, a Vancouver-based logging company, for over $1 billion in 2011? (https://financialpost.com/investing/timberwest-bought-by-pension-plans)
The whole context is prescribed by the BC (and Canadian) government. “It will be the people of Pacheedaht that will be deciding how much old-growth to save, how much old-growth to log,” Chief Jones says. But this begs a gigantic question: what do they intend to do? And how will they do it, given the status quo? They may run the mill but the BC government enables and subsidizes industrial clearcutting of old growth forests. The whole context is prescribed by the BC government (with the Canadian government’s de facto permission). The article glosses over these crucial particulars.
At this point in time, with decades of unsustainable forestry leaving us with less than 3 percent of ancient trees remaining and with the world in a horrifying climate crisis, it’s clear we have to stop clearcutting the remainder of old growth for capitalist greed. We need to protect all remaining old growth now to de-escalate this ecological crisis. Concurrently, we can demand that the government engage with First Nations and write treaties that truly recognize them as the stewards of their own land. This is what the protesters stand for.
Please, please go back. It sounds like you didn’t receive the heartiest welcome when you arrived at the blockades. I hope you consider going back and I hope you are following the Fairy Creek Blockade and Rainforest Flying Squad daily reports. The incredible bravery and courage of the people at the frontlines inspires me to do the work I’m doing in Victoria and to take time and energy to write letters like this to you. They are doing world-changing, almost superhuman work.
There is much much more for you to report. And I truly hope you will. This is the Canadian story of the decade and it is almost completely ignored by mainstream media. More Narwhal reporting would be a good thing.
I sincerely thank you for your consideration.
All the best, Tasha Diamant, with contributions from David Howell, Patti Baral, and Skye Stegenga Fox.
Sarah Cox’s reply, July 20, 2021
Thanks so much for your thoughtful email and for explaining your concerns with the article. We alway appreciate hearing from our readers, and want to assure you that we’ll be thinking about your comments.
The topics you raise are also the subject of much debate here at The Narwhal. I think most of the explanation comes down to this: we’ve reported ad nauseum on the importance of protecting old-growth and certain voices within the Pacheedaht (like Elder Bill Jones) have been amplified consistently by activists and by the media. But there were some really key voices in this story that simply weren’t being heard. To have a more fulsome understanding of this issue, we wanted to hear from those voices. In this sense, our most recent feature on Pacheedaht is part of a larger body of reporting — it’s not the first thing we’ve written on Fairy Creek and it won’t be the last. And it’s not meant to be the definitive take on the issue. But it does add some valuable context and insight into a point of view that we haven’t been hearing from much. Even if some of our readers may disagree with the Pacheedaht Nation’s point of view, our job as journalists is to hear from people with different viewpoints and to help our readers make sense of the complex issues that are shaping our world. We see this piece as helping to cultivate a deeper understanding of the position the Pacheedaht find themselves in.
I hope that helps to explain our thinking behind a story like this.
You may also be interested in our court challenge against the RCMP in their restriction of press freedom at Fairy Creek. We’ll have more news on this shortly.
Thank-you again for reading The Narwhal and for sharing your thoughts.
Sarah Cox | she/her
B.C. Investigative Reporter
Grateful to live, work and learn on the unceded territory of the Lək̓ʷəŋən speaking peoples.