Fairy Creek forest defenders protect the future we need

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Elder Bill Jones called a community meeting to address increasing violence at the Fairy Creek blockade. Image: Fairy Creek Blockade/Rainforest Flying Squad/Used with permission

In the midst of a heat wave that has killed hundreds of people in British Columbia, the blasting of trees to build roads for the clearcutting of rare old growth forest has continued despite the extreme fire danger in July this year.

This is why hundreds of peaceful forest protectors remain at different camps in unceded Pacheedaht and Dididaht territories, also known as the Fairy Creek area, at the invitation of beloved Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones and hereditary Pacheedaht leader Victor Peter.

While the Pacheedaht Band Council has requested that forest protectors leave while consultations occur, many people also remain out of respect for Jones, adherence to the precautionary principle, and a sense of deep love for the land itself.

There is widespread respect for the Pacheedaht Nation's right and responsibility to determine what happens in their territories.

At the same time, people on the ground at Fairy Creek realize that if what is being discussed with the provincial government is already destroyed by the time consultation concludes, then consultation is yet another form of destructive colonial violence. If the Pacheedaht request logging deferrals, there will not be compensation for lost revenue for at least a couple of years, if ever, putting the financial onus on them for halting clearcutting. This onus should be borne by the provincial government or the public, not the Pacheedaht.

As elder Bill Jones has stated in response to Pacheedaht Band Council Chief Jeff Jones' request to vacate the area:

"Please be assured that once we receive notice that Teal Jones has stood down from active logging and road building for the fire season and that the RCMP are refraining from enforcement procedures in the area, we too will reduce our presence in Pacheedaht unceded territory."

Unfortunately, dangerous practices by both logging company Teal Jones and the RCMP continue unabated this summer.

As smoke fills the air this summer, hope does continue to poke through.

On July 20, forest protectors gained a victory in court, as journalists who had challenged the unconstitutional and arbitrary exclusion zones set up by RCMP to prevent access to media and legal observers were successful in pushing back against police attempts to avoid accountability for their undue use of force against peaceful land defenders. The RCMP, many wearing white supremacist thin blue lines on their uniforms, have shown definite bias towards supporting the loggers, refusing to arrest or even investigate one logger who physically assaulted and repeatedly punched a peaceful land defender in the face on July 12, 2021.

This violence is less pervasive than the sense of hope created by people organizing and contributing whatever gifts they have in service of our collective well-being, but it is alarming. Incidents such as the assault by the logger led Jones to invite the RCMP, the Pacheedaht Band Council, and Teal Jones to a community circle on July 16.

As elder Jones stated, "I don't want to be scared away by an assault."

Notably, the RCMP, the band council and the logging company did not attend the meeting, with the exception of an expensive, overbearing surveillance RCMP helicopter that disrupted the meeting with its noise.

This was a lost opportunity to build a dialogue with these stewards of the land, who are upholding the true rule of law -- the laws of nature -- which humans forget at their peril.

Principles of respect, interconnectedness and stewardship for future generations is what guides the Fairy Creek land protectors, and have been articulated by the band council as well. So why aren't people working together?

The time I've spent at Fairy Creek is some of the most inspiring I've ever experienced, with creative, generous, kind and talented people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, all spontaneously co-operating to uphold what Jones has asked us to: the responsibility to protect sacred forests for future generations.

So far, over 452 arrests of peaceful land protectors have occurred, with the count rising each day. The sense of community, mutual care, and shared purpose is deeply heartening, and creates hope that humanity has the skills, intelligence and dedication to truly care for future generations in the face of accelerating climate disaster.

Notably, the province of B.C. has signed a forestry agreement with the Pacheedaht Band Council which prevents the council from criticizing logging interests. Colonial rule-of-law values these economic agreements at the expense of our long-term health and ecological survival.

Declarations sound good, but they have not been effective so far at stopping the ongoing clearcutting of what little ancient forest remains.

The ancient cedar rainforests actually produce rain (hence their name) and c­­ooling; the oldest, largest trees are more likely to survive wildfires because of how much water they hold. It would be negligent to allow them to be clear-cut; they provide genuine hope in the face of the climate crisis that is upon us.

As elder Jones puts it, what people are protecting is not only the forest itself but also our sensitivity to the forest; in a sense, our own humanity.

One of the solutions that has been proposed to resolve this impasse between the loggers, the B.C. government, the Band Council, and the forest defenders is to compensate the Pacheedaht First Nation for lost logging revenue.

This misses the point in that the value in the forests does not lie only in how much profit the lumber itself turns, but primarily in the everlasting ecological value the old forests provide by nature. Before being violently dismantled by colonization, Indigenous economies understood and worked in balance with this intrinsic environmental value.

However, seeing as money is what seems to matter within a colonial paradigm: a fundraiser to buy the rainforest in order to protect it in perpetuity has been started, and could provide a win-win path through this situation, as we work towards a much needed paradigm shift in response to climate urgency.  

The land and its naturally functioning ecosystems have the final say; the sooner people learn to respect this, and to adapt our economies to this basic fact, the more hope we may nourish for future generations.

When injunctions emphasize the rule of law, it needs to be understood that colonial rule of law is dangerously disconnected from the laws of nature. Colonizers must learn from our Indigenous relatives that we have a duty to reciprocate and care for the land that has given us life. This lack of reciprocity and care has led directly to the climate crisis we now find ourselves in.

The federal and provincial governments might ask themselves: if the millions of dollars that have so far been wasted on RCMP enforcement of an ecologically destructive injunction had been devoted to this fundraiser, how much further ahead would we collectively be towards a genuine climate solution? It is late -- but not too late -- to still achieve this.

Rita Wong is a poet-scholar who has written several books of poetry. She understands natural ecosystems as critical infrastructure that must be protected and cared for in order to survive climate crisis. In other words, old growth forests are what remains of the earth’s lungs.

Image: Fairy Creek Blockade/Rainforest Flying Squad/Used with permission

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