“All parties need to respect that it is up to Pacheedaht people to determine how our forestry resources will be used.”
So said an April 12 statement from Pacheedaht First Nation Chief Jeff Jones and Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones.
It came as the Flying Rainforest Squad, a grassroots organization, illegally blocked access roads to the Fairy Creek watershed on Pacheedaht territory and the squad’s supporters prepared for arrest.
“Pacheedaht has always harvested and managed our forestry resources, including old-growth cedar, for cultural, ceremonial, domestic and economic purposes,” the statement said.
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I was curious and, as is our mission at The Narwhal, I wanted to know the story behind the press release. There was just one challenge: Chief Jones was giving few, if any, media interviews. Given the media’s history of extractive journalism practices in Indigenous communities, this wasn’t exactly surprising.
Pacheedaht First Nation had asked Fairy Creek blockaders to leave, expressing concern about increasing polarization over forestry issues in its territory on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, less than a two-hour drive from B.C.’s capital city of Victoria. But it seemed there was far more to this story than an intense stand-off over the future of old-growth forests in Pacheedaht territory.
I waited a few weeks before I reached out, keeping an eye on the unfolding situation at Fairy Creek, and then I sent the Chief an email asking if he would consent to an interview.
“I’m interested in learning about how forestry supports your community and what steps your community is taking to preserve culturally important areas in your territory,” I explained.
I’d been covering old-growth issues around the province for years and hoped to learn more about the nation’s old-growth cedar strategy and other initiatives related to forestry, including interim conservation measures the Pacheedaht had implemented.
I asked if there was a way to protect old-growth in Fairy Creek and also to log responsibly. “Where is the balance?” I wrote.
I was delighted to get a response. After a few preliminary conversations, it was an honour to be invited to the community, where photographer Taylor Roades and I were welcomed by everyone we met or ran into, and began to learn about this small nation with big plans and a broad vision.
Our day in the Pacheedaht community began with a boat trip into the Gordon River and San Juan River estuaries, where Pacheedaht members are painstakingly restoring salmon habitat that was damaged or destroyed by historic industrial logging.
The day ended with a tour of Soule Creek Lodge, a tourism business the Pacheedaht purchased two years ago with revenues from forestry.
There’s been no shortage of coverage of the Fairy Creek blockades in the last two months — with everything from dramatic arrest photos to a feature in Vogue magazine to live Instagram video streams from tree-sitters. We’ve heard from Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones, who supports the blockaders, but until now we haven’t heard from the elected Chief about the intricate relationship between the nation and forestry.
Revenues from forestry are helping the nation buy businesses and land in its territory. “We are finding ourselves buying our own land back…” the Chief said.
As Canada grapples with how to mark this national holiday amidst the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools, we hope you take a moment to sit back and learn about the experience of one First Nation that’s carving its own path amid B.C.’s new war in the woods.
Take care and stay cool out there,
B.C. investigative reporter
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