Pacheedaht Community Was Never Consulted on Forestry, Elder says

Oct.21, 2021, Ada’itsx / Fairy Creek, Pacheedaht Territory:

The NDP’s newly introduced legislation still does not protect biodiversity at immediate risk, or Indigenous rights over their unceded territories — two of the top recommendations made last year by the Old Growth Strategic Review.

While Premier Horgan frequently says the Pacheedaht First Nation must be given the respect to make decisions about their own ancestral territory, Elder William Jones and other Pacheedaht band members testified by affidavit in recent BC Supreme Court hearings they were not consulted on any aspect of the contract that binds their nation.

“Just two or three Pacheedaht leaders were involved in that decision,” Jones says. “As a member, I am not allowed input into Band decisions, and no information is given to the membership until after decisions are made.” Jones says he has no access to meeting agendas or minutes.

The most basic step of informing and consulting with the entire Pacheedaht community has never been taken. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), an agreement that the province committed to uphold in 2019, demands that Indigenous people should make free, prior and fully informed decisions, without duress. The existing Pacheedaht Forest Consultation and Revenue Sharing Agreement could be seen to threaten the nation’s share of benefits if any member interferes with logging operations. (Sections 11.1 and 11.2)

Jones said he fears that his nation will become “a debt-slave, forced to take whatever crumbs we can get, for the last of our children’s inheritance.”

Despite the concern Premier Horgan expresses for Indigenous rights, a call from Squamish First Nation last June to halt logging in 20 cutblocks in their territory did not provoke the immediate and positive response given to the request by leaders of Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-way-aht just days earlier.

Similarly, Kwakiutl First Nation has been requesting a moratorium on old-growth logging for well over a year to no avail. And repeated calls from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs for a moratorium on all old-growth logging seem to fall on deaf NDP ears.

“Despite being in power since 2017, this government did not even restore forest practice legislation to the levels of the previous NDP government,” said Kathleen Code, a Rainforest Flying Squad spokesperson. “Back then, there were far more safeguards for forests, ecosystems and communities. Even though they decried Liberals’ changes when they were in opposition, once they got into power they kept it all — including the nefarious ‘professional reliance’ which removed government oversight and repercussions,” she notes.

Code said the government still has created no real protection for old-growth forests. She adds that two-year deferrals are not protection.  And BC Timber Sales continue to auction off old-growth cutblocks to this day.

“These are not actions taken by a government listening to the 85 percent of British Columbians who said it was important the NDP keep its promises to fulfill the Old Growth Strategic Review’s recommendations,” she said, referring to a Sierra Club of BC survey. Those recommendations included the need to defer logging of all at-risk old-growth forests within six months and protecting biodiversity, as well as working with Indigenous governments to implement all recommendations. Other regions and countries have successfully transitioned away from old-growth logging, she added.

Code was shocked to hear Premier Horgan suggest that celebrities provide $500-million worth of donations to finance the protection of old-growth forests that are the responsibility of his government. “He acts as if keeping ancient forests is an unaffordable luxury,” Code said. “Yet they are among our greatest existing climate-mitigation assets.”

The evidence that old-growth forests should be saved is overwhelming, she adds. This year alone, the BC Coroners Service stated that more than 700 people died in our province due to extreme heat caused by climate change.

At the same time, this government generously subsidized fossil fuel companies by well over $1 billion, according to a June analysis released by Stand.earth.

Last year, Focus on Victoria used the government’s own data to show that far from benefiting from the logging industry, British Columbians subsidize it too, by more than $365 million per year.

Well-known UBC forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard has said that logging creates far more carbon emissions than any other industry in BC. She also stated that Fairy Creek forests sequester more carbon than rainforests of the Amazon.

The government places great value on forestry jobs, but none on the sustainable jobs made possible by intact old-growth forests. Last June, Andrea Inness of the Ancient Forest Alliance cited a two-year study of the Fairy Creek area that showed at least $40 million more would be made by leaving that forest intact. “Tourism alone would make up for any lost jobs by not timber harvesting and would cover almost 66 per cent of lost provincial GDP by not harvesting,” she stated in a media release.

The International Panel on Climate Change, which recently described the climate crisis as a “Code Red,” says stopping deforestation is one of the top drastic actions countries must take in order to mitigate our climate emergency.

“Our young people, Pacheedaht and others, face an uncertain future,” Jones said. “There has already been a lot of logging on our territory. There are many, many clearcuts. ” But he added: “If we can keep these last old-growth forests standing, I believe the Great Mother will still be able to care for our future generations.”