PORT RENFREW (NEWS 1130) – The hereditary chiefs of three First Nations on Vancouver Island are asking the province to stop logging in and around Fairy Creek for two years, saying they’re taking back control of their traditional lands.
The Huu-ay-aht, Pacheedaht, and Ditidaht First Nations gave notice to the province on Saturday to defer logging of the old-growth forests.
Protestors have been in the area for months in an effort to stop crews from cutting down old growth trees. Dozens of them have been arrested for breaching a B.C. court injunction, ordering the removal of blockades aimed at preventing old-growth logging in the area.
The injunction is to allow workers with the Teal-Jones Group to resume logging in that area and in the Fairy Creek watershed to the south.
The hereditary chiefs say they’re taking back decision-making responsibilities over their traditional territories, adding the Nations are the last to benefit from what is taken out of the territory and the last to be asked what must be put back.
“We have made a commitment to our people to manage the resources on our ḥahahuułi the way our ancestors did – guided by our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one),” said the hereditary chiefs.
“We are in a place of reconciliation now and relationships have evolved to include First Nations. It is time for us to learn from the mistakes that have been made and take back our authority over our ḥahahuułi,” the statement from Huu-ay-aht Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters), Ditidaht Chabut Satiixub (Hereditary Chief Paul Tate), and Pacheedaht’s Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones added.
The chiefs say a Declaration signed on Friday by the three Nations acknowledges the three sacred principles are “often ignored.” They are developing resource management plans to guide future decisions.
They say the plans will be “open and transparent” and “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 also say they are okay with forestry operations happening in other parts of their Territories, provided by the Nations and the province.
“Anyone who requests permission to enter our ḥahahuułi is welcome provided they conduct themselves in accordance with our sacred principles. That includes safe, peaceful, and lawful protest that does not interfere with legally authorized forestry operations,” reads a joint statement.
Activists say very little of the best old-growth forest remains in B.C. They say Fairy Creek is the last unprotected, intact old-growth valley on southern Vancouver Island.
Teal-Jones has said it plans to harvest about 20 hectares at the north ridge of the 1,200-hectare watershed out of 200 available for harvest.
B.C. Premier John Horgan released a statement on Monday afternoon, saying the government has received the declaration and deferral request by the chiefs.
“These Nations are the holders of constitutionally protected Indigenous interests within their traditional territories. It is from this position that the Chiefs have approached us,” it reads.
“We further recognize the three Nations will continue to exercise their constitutionally protected Indigenous interests over the protected areas,” it adds.
Horgan says the government honours the declaration, and will enter into respectful discussion with the Nations regarding their request.
“Our government is committed to reconciliation. True reconciliation means meaningful partnerships. 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.”
With files from The Canadian Press