The Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations have formally given notice to the province of B.C. to defer old-growth logging for two years in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran areas on southwest Vancouver Island while the nations prepare resource management plans.
The notice comes as RCMP prepared on Monday morning to arrest protesters who have been camping in the Fairy Creek area since last summer in an attempt to prevent old-growth logging of the valley in Pacheedaht territory. More than 170 people have been arrested since forestry company Teal-Jones obtained a court injunction in April to allow the arrest and removal of protesters from access points to planned logging in the Fairy Creek area.
The nations announced on Monday that they have signed a declaration called the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration to take back their power over their ḥahahuułi (traditional territories).
“For more than 150 years they have watched as others decided what was best for their lands, water, and people,” said a statement issued by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, which had already decided to defer logging of its treaty lands.
“This declaration brings this practice to an immediate end,” said the statement.
In an emailed statement, Teal-Jones said the company will abide by the declaration and looks forward “to engaging with the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations as they develop integrated resource forest stewardship plans.”
“Teal Jones acknowledges the ancestral territories of all First Nations on which we operate and is committed to reconciliation,” said the statement.
It was not immediately clear if the RCMP will continue to arrest people who are still blocking logging roads leading to the Fairy Creek watershed.
Pacheedaht First Nation chief councillor Jeff Jones said the three nations look forward to building a future based on respectful nation-to-nation relationships with other governments “that are informed by Indigenous history, Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous rights and Indigenous priorities.”
“We ask that all peoples both Indigenous and non-Indigenous learn and move forward together and that by working together we can realize a future that is fair, just, and equitable,” Chief Jones said.
The declaration states that the governance and stewardship responsibilities in the traditional territories of the three Nations must be acknowledged and respected, in accordance with the traditional laws and constitutionally protected Aboriginal Title, Aboriginal Rights and Treaty Rights.
“Third parties — whether they are companies, organizations, other governments or individuals — have no right to speak on behalf of the Nations,” the statement said.
“Moreover, for third parties to be welcome in their ḥahahuułi, they must respect their governance and stewardship, sacred principles, and right to economically benefit from the resources within the ḥahahuułi.”
Leaders from the three nations said they have made a commitment to their people to manage the resources on their ḥahahuułi the way their ancestors did — guided by the sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one).
“We are in a place of reconciliation now and relationships have evolved to include First Nations,” Huu-ay-aht Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters) said.
“It is time for us to learn from the mistakes that have been made and take back our authority over our ḥahahuułi.”
The declaration acknowledges that three sacred principles are often ignored and 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.”
The nations said they are already engaged in extensive stewardship efforts on their territories to “repair damage done in the past and to plan for future generations, drawing on sound data and information, best practices and science, and as always, guided by traditional values.”
Pacheedaht First Nation forestry manager Rod Bealing told The Narwhal there will be no more road-building in the Fairy Creek headwaters during the two-year deferral. “Our agreement is for no forest management activities,” Bealing said.
“However, we do expect an appropriate amount of maintenance to be carried out to make sure that the roads are safe and that there is an appropriate level of environmental protection.”
In mid-April, the Pacheedaht asked protesters to leave their territory, saying: “We do not welcome or support unsolicited involvement or interference by others in our territory, including third-party activism.”
Premier John Horgan said his government has received the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration and deferral request issued by the chiefs of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
“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,” Horgan said in a media statement issued at 1 p.m. on Monday.
“We honour the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration. And we are pleased to enter into respectful discussions with the Nations regarding their request. We understand the request must be addressed expeditiously, and we will ensure a prompt response.”
Horgan said the government recognizes that the three Nations will continue to exercise their constitutionally protected Indigenous interests.
“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.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
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