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‘A really beautiful moment’: reporter Steph Wood reflects on her trip to Clayoquot Sound

The Narwhal’s Steph Wood linked up with David Suzuki for a CBC documentary about the Tla-o-qui-aht fight to protect old-growth forests

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A camera crew recording Steph Wood and David Suzuki talking

Thirty years after B.C.’s War in the Woods, where do things stand in the fight for old-growth forests?

That’s the question The Narwhal’s Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood and David Suzuki posed on a trip to the site of that seminal battle against logging in Clayoquot Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. 

“The forest is still standing,” Suzuki notes, but “the bridge is breaking down.”

The impacts of the historic logging blockade are on full display in Clayoquot Sound, and the subject of the brand new documentary War for the Woods airing this Friday on CBC’s The Nature of Things (you can already stream it here on CBC Gem). 

Steph and David — “the weirdest thing was hearing others only call him ‘David’ and not David Suzuki, and having to do the same,” Steph said with a laugh — take viewers on that 30-year journey through archival footage, old-growth maps and interviews with members of First Nations who have stewarded these lands for thousands of years. 

For the Tla-o-qui-aht, the legacy has included declaring all of their territory protected through four tribal parks and the growth of a Guardians program as the nation experiences “a period of revival,” Steph details in this story.

Go here to watch the War for the Woods documentary, or, if you’re in Toronto, grab a ticket to see a screening and conversation with the filmmakers on March 20 at Hot Docs.

Read on below for more reflections from Steph on the project and the people she met along the way.

Take care and stand tall,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience
A totem pole

Any standout moments from your trip to Clayoquot Sound?

A big highlight has to be Elder Joe Martin inviting us and other media to witness the rising of his totem pole in their village Opitsaht, the first to be raised in decades. When I visited to write our first article in 2021, Joe and his team were still working on the pole. The next summer, when we arrived at the same spot, a big group of community members had come to help move the pole, which must have been well over 1,500 pounds. The amount of work that went into that effort was incredible. And then we got to witness the pole-raising ceremony, to hear what it means to everyone and to see the community lining up on three long ropes to pull it up, with Joe telling each group how much to pull to make sure it went up straight. Everyone just paused and stared at it. It was a really beautiful moment for them and I felt privileged to be there.

A fun side note: during the totem pole moving, a person ran up and asked, “Are you Narwhallians?!” I proudly said, “I’m a Narwhallian.” They were a supporter and recognized my Narwhal crewneck right away. (If this was you, please reach out to us!)
Steph Wood and David Suzuki in front of an old-growth tree

What was it like hanging out with David Suzuki?

The weirdest thing was hearing others only call him “David” and not David Suzuki, and having to do the same. It was so awesome to see David (gasp, just David) meet the tribal parks team in particular. They had grown up with him and were so excited to meet him.

I got to spend a lot of time with him, sitting on a beautiful beach, going for a couple meals and doing a long interview in the forest. He’s got a real calm way about him that really puts you at ease, but also that fiery passion we all know so well when talking about environmental issues. He really manages to embody both energies at the same time in a way that really struck me. 

I think one of the nicest moments was when the film crew was getting drone footage of us walking down the path and so what we talked about really didn’t matter — we were able to just chat about family and everyday stuff one-on-one.
Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood in the forest

How do you feel about the War for the Woods documentary coming out?

The cliche: nervous and excited. I’m nervous about being the host but I’m excited about the story. The goal of the first story I wrote, and of signing onto this episode, was to showcase the Tla-o-qui-aht people at the heart of it — their stories and expertise. Everyone we spoke to was incredibly generous with their time. When I wrote the article I thought of how visual it is, how stunning their territory is, how charismatic all the people are, and I really did think, this is a multimedia story, you need to hear the voices and see the movement of the water and the list and the trees. So to be approached to make that happen and have Makwa Creative leading it, when I so admire Tanya Talaga, Kim Wheeler and Jolene Banning, was truly incredible. I had also seen Sean Stiller’s amazing cinematography before and been absolutely floored by the beauty of it. To see the people and the territory shared this way is incredible. It’s beautifully done.

This week in The Narwhal

Illustration of spotted owl layered over a map of B.C. with a hand erasing the map from the side.
Old-growth spotted owl habitat removed from federal maps after talks with B.C., docs reveal
By Sarah Cox
Federal scientists mapped core critical habitat for the endangered spotted owl. Almost half of it, including old-growth, disappeared during negotiations with the B.C. government, internal documents reveal.

How the Ontario government muzzled its Greenbelt Council
By Emma McIntosh
Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Madeek extends his middle finger at an RBC sign in downtown Toronto
5 takeaways from the new climate rules for Canada’s big banks
By Carl Meyer
Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation
Billions have been made on Robinson Huron Treaty lands. First Nations could finally get a fair share
By Nick Dunne
Seen in infrared, methane emissions from an unlit flare billow out of an oil and gas facility
An invisible climate killer is lurking behind B.C.’s LNG boom
By Matt Simmons
When you’ve gotta act cool because you’re on a first-name basis with David Suzuki now. Tell your friends to sign up for our newsletter for some tips and tricks — and you could be cool when you meet him, too.
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