THIS PAST WEEK the Rainforest Flying Squad has been faced with a choice: “We can be complicit in the pressure exerted by government and industry to exploit ancient territorial land for profit,” Glenn Reid says. “Or we can continue to support Indigenous peoples as they assert their right to defend unceded territory and their ancient relatives - the forests.”
As Kati George-Jim says: “Uncle Bill is not an activist. He is a sovereign person asserting his Aboriginal rights, and upholding his responsibilities to future generations.”
The blockades still stand while organizers pause to understand the forces at play and to consult with Indigenous peoples on the territory.
Last year, RFS began the blockades to protect these precious ancient forests that are at imminent risk. Over months of sharing time with elder Bill Jones, who has asked us to stay on his traditional territory to help defend it, we are learning more about the deep-rooted, complex oppression of Indigenous peoples that continues to this day.
Jones and George-Jim explain that when reserves were created, Indigenous people were forced to live on a tiny fraction of their original traditional territories - or even on the territories of other peoples.
The longhouses that had been central to economy, culture, and spirituality were replaced by settler-style housing that imposed nuclear-family life. The band council system was also imposed. It eroded and displaced the role and value of women. It unbalanced power in favour of males, which set them up to be coerced by government and industry to allow exploitation of the land.
And the same violence continues today. Systems and structures set in place at the beginning of colonization are still enforced.
Indigenous peoples and societies are seen as standing in the way of settler, industrial and government use of unceded lands. Freedom to live a life true to traditional cultures and laws - free from oppression - is a promise that has never been honoured by B.C. or Canada.
“Colonialism is based on separating our peoples from our lands by putting them on reserves, for example, using genocide and assimilation,” George-Jim says. “These structures attack Indigenous societies by legalizing violence against women, children, and the land. They go against the foundations of who we are as Indigenous peoples.”
Jones and George-Jim explain that reserves do not represent traditional Indigenous territories. The Crown’s duty is not fulfilled by consulting solely with band councils. And consultation alone is not consent. The Crown is responsible to gain consent from all title holders without coercion. Without real consent, resource extraction directly infringes on Aboriginal title and rights. Cultural practices and Indigenous food sovereignty are not possible on destroyed land.
Both federal and provincial governments have a legal requirement to consult all Indigenous peoples affected by proposed projects. Governments exert pressure on band councils in order to further their own ends. Industry benefits from the failure to consult by both levels of government.
Provincial and federal governments, along with industries, offer “benefit carrots to the political elite,” Jones explained, to entice them into coercive agreements. “We are being choked out.”
“Indigenous peoples are forced into the extractivist economies because of the entrenchment of poverty, where the only way out of poverty is to surrender their inherent rights and responsibilities." says George-Jim.
Tragically, in the process Indigenous traditional values, worldviews and ecological land stewardship (ie. Indigenous governance) are sacrificed for short-term profit.
So-called ‘mutual benefit agreements’ or ‘revenue sharing agreements’ are actually coercive tools used by government and industry. They are designed to force Indigenous agreement. These agreements gag dissent and bind participants to non-interference clauses.
“These agreements are accepted as legal,” Jones added. “But they ignore the rights and privileges of the band membership.”
“There is no power to say yes or no to the actual decision. If bands disagree with a project, like old-growth logging or pipelines, they are basically surrendering their right to be consulted,” George-Jim explains. The end result is predetermined, inevitable, and outside of Indigenous control.
Although the BC government passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, it has yet to put Indigenous rights first in situations where that would halt exploitation in traditional territories.
“It is a colonial deceit to selectively recognize Indigenous leaders when it benefits industry, under the guise of reconciliation,” Jones said.
We are learning to understand the laws of the land and be accountable to them.
For all of the above reasons, RFS feels we must stand behind Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones and other Indigenous people to protect the old-growth forests.
The old-growth forests hold the spirit of the land, the integrity of the waterways, and all beings that live in or among them. We pledge to help defend these irreplaceable ancient relatives until they are protected forever. We hope you will join us.
“We have to be protectors and custodians of our earth,” Bill Jones said. “We are losing our inheritance. We are being stripped of all our value of selves.”
The Rainforest Flying Squad is blockading attempts by Teal Cedar Ltd to cut old-growth forests in TFL 46, which overlaps with Pacheedat territory. This comment was written in collaboration with Bill Jones and his niece, xʷ is xʷ čaa (Kati George-Jim).