UP AT FAIRY CREEK, known to the Pacheedaht as Ada’itsx, while trying to protect the forest, I find myself bearing witness to the current relationship between Indigenous peoples and our mainstream society. I would like to put some thoughts on your table to help us toward reconciliation.
As I file this story, news of the discovered bodies of 215 First Nations children at the residential school in Kamloops is breaking hearts across our nation. If we wish to make peace, we have a long way to go, and must acknowledge that racism in Canada is not all in the past.
I hear many of my white middle class family saying: “I feel constrained to come to Fairy Creek because Indigenous people don’t want us there.”
I celebrate the soul searching, but people’s good intentions are being manipulated by a “divide and conquer” strategy, an example of which is a letter published by the elected Pacheedaht Council saying we are unwelcome. This letter has been traced back to a request from the Premier’s office for the Council to fulfill their contractual obligations not to interfere with the destruction of their forest heritage, for some cash. Why were they placed in this position?
True reconciliation will begin when First Nations get what they have never had in BC: a percentage of the profits from resource extraction, veto power over projects in their territories, and first dibs on the jobs in their communities.
Instead, Premier John Horgan, in his new “Modernizing Forest Policy” document, inverts reality by using First Nations as a human shield and blaming them for his job-killing, ecosystem-killing forest policies; by saying he can’t protect old growth or stop clearcutting without consulting First Nations. Sierra Club BC summarized it as “Orwellian” and “talk and log.” Horgan’s “Old Growth Protection Strategy” is a bald lie, as bald as the hillsides of BC.
John Horgan’s Old Growth Protection Plan at work near Caycuse (photo by Dawna Mueller)
The issues confuse most people, because most Canadians don’t know that hereditary chiefs have traditional control over what happens in their territories, but elected chiefs—a construct of the Indian Act of 1876—have control over what happens on reserves and the cash flow from government.
Industry and government throw money at the elected chiefs to get them to sign off on mines, pipelines and clearcutting, but these activities generally take place outside the reserves, in the territories, which should require sign-off from hereditary chiefs.
When the Wet’suwet’en elected chiefs signed off on the pipeline, and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs blockaded it, John Horgan refused to dialogue, and used the RCMP to smash their resistance.
First Nations are not a couple of elected chiefs. First Nations are a people. And with all his talk about consultation, the premier has rejected calls to sit down and talk with Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones at Fairy Creek.
So, on Saturday, May 29, at Waterfall Camp, Pacheedaht leaders Grannie Rose, Kati George-Jim, and Bill Jones brought Victor Peters, whom Jones says is the true hereditary chief of Pacheedaht First Nation, to the police line which denies Pacheedaht citizens access to Waterfall Camp, and declared:
“I ask you, police man, to escort my chief to where he needs to go—these territories. He needs access to his lands to care for the old growth. You’ve been draining this territory for 200 years. You have cut all our timber with no remorse. You are invaders. I say to you: Clear the way, to escort my chief.”
Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones speaks with RCMP near Waterfall Camp
Jones was calling out the RCMP, and John Horgan who sent them, but all around him in the forest, and down in River Camp, 1,500 people, mostly settlers, had come to Fairy Creek in support, to stand with the “tall standing ones” and our First Nations.
Bill wrote this invitation, which you can read here. Please read it. It is short, eloquent, and moving. It begins with an exhortation to walk in the woods, and it ends with an exhortation to walk in the woods. You are invited. If you come down to Fairy Creek, you don’t need to get arrested. Come to build relationships with First Nations people, support them, and listen to their teachings.
That evening at the 7:00 pm welcome circle at HQ below River Camp, Rueben George (grandson of Chief Dan George), spoke. He is Sacred Trust Manager of the Tsleil Waututh Nation. He urged us to build relationships between ourselves and the land. He told us how he buried the placenta that nourished each of his children in the womb, near their home, and planted a tree over it, so they could come home any time in their lives, to find their roots.
Rueben George of Tsleil Waututh Nation
I was born in Toronto, raised my children in Guelph, and my daughter lives in the Yukon. Rueben’s words uncovered for me a great sense of loss—that I have no generational connection to place. Our bodies have settled here, but not our souls.
But Rueben invited us to join with the land wherever we live, and shared his traditional knowledge of how trees talk to each other and support each other in times of need. He called this a reciprocal relationship. He pointed up to the ridge line of Fairy Creek, and told us that every gift of love we give the land, will give us so much love and strength back.
I know this is true, because I have felt it at Fairy Creek.
One night around the camp fire I observed how committed everyone was to non-violence. “This has gone up a level from just non-violence—everyone’s hearts are full of Peace.” We puzzled over the mystery of this, until someone said: “I think it is seeping up out of the ground, from the trees.”
LIKE MANY, I CRIED TEARS OF JOY watching the BC Legislature sign UNDRIP into law. Maybe humanity was moving forward!
A month later, Premier John Horgan’s government created the RCMP Community Industry Response Group (CIRG), a tactical squad, who are authorized to use “lethal oversight” to crush community resistance to industrial resource extraction. UNDRIP was just a photo-op for Mr Horgan.
Regular detachment RCMP officers are required to enforce laws as neutrals, without interference from politicians. That is why the civil disobedience at Clayoquot Summer was a relatively “civil” affair.
When officers are collected from all over the province into a CIRG, by declaration of a “provincial emergency,” their mandate pits them against communities, on the side of industry. The RCMP have enough trouble with systemic racism, but initiatives like CIRG destroy any credibility they have left.
Because where do we do all our resource extraction? First Nations unceded territories.
RCMP officers face Indigenous warrior matriarchs at Caycuse (photo by Arvin Singh Dang/ @arvinoutside)
This same CIRG group is now at Fairy Creek, using illegal “exclusion zones” that are being challenged by the Canadian Association of Journalists, and false arrest practices that have outraged the BC Civil Liberties Association. They are even turning away biologists documenting endangered species at Fairy Creek, claiming “public safety” as an excuse.
While a small minority of the logging community have slashed tires and assaulted First Nations youth, the constant stream of violent, racially-fuelled behaviour from the RCMP is more appalling.
I went to Fairy Creek to save trees, but I’ve spent most of my time intervening between First Nations youth and cops.
I watched a peaceful young woman, a minor, manhandled so harshly that her shirt ripped open, exposing her breasts to 30 armed male police. Her arrest was unlawful, and the assault on her dignity unnecessary. When she asked “Who are you serving?” they slammed the steel paddy wagon door in her face.
I have dug deep to try and understand this behaviour. It is tactically foolish and morally wrong. As a sports coach, I am good at uncovering motivation, but I simply couldn’t understand it until I sat down to write this column.
The police didn’t touch the 100 white elders who came down last week. And they were civil while they arrested me. Yet they are repeatedly singling out First Nations for violence. Why?
Because they know they can get away with it.
First Nations and other marginalized youth don’t have the resources to shadow box with some “complaint commission,” which they know will side with police. Their experience is grounded in the knowledge that Chantel Moore was one of three Tla-o-qui-aht youth from her small village who have been shot to death by police or died in police custody in the last year. Less than 200 population, 3 children dead in separate incidents, one year. This is not random.
After the arrests, I said to one young man with quite dark skin, “This is why the RCMP have lost everyone’s faith.” He replied calmly, “This is why they are so hated.” There was no hatred in his voice, just an acceptance of the reality of his life: “Don’t let the cops get you alone.”
But reconciliation is being practised at Fairy Creek, by the forest defenders.
The Rainforest Flying Squad Legal Support Team is painstakingly documenting dozens of police violations, including “racist, trans or queer-phobic, or misogynistic incidents.” These will be presented to Justice Verhoeven to ask for his help in restraining police while they enforce his injunction, and used to support legal challenges and official complaint procedures.
As well, realizing Indigenous peoples need to have control over their own resources, the forest defenders have started a separate GoFundMe page to prioritize protection of First Nation youth from targeted RCMP activity, and give First Nations resources to free them from what Bill Jones describes as “predatory lending and predatory agreements that have shackled his people with unsupportable debt, impoverished his people, and destroyed the forest they consider to be their mother.”
The rest of us can accept their invitation and that of Elder Bill Jones to come to Fairy Creek to try and shield the forest and our youth from violence.
Myself, I have chosen to go to jail because our leadership has failed us and we have no time to waste. When elected leaders make mistakes, we must listen instead to the voice inside us which knows right from wrong. We are all Indigenous to this planet. We are all family.
One more thought on building healthy relationships between our cultures.
Some people are uncomfortable with the term “settler.” Being uncomfortable with a term is a good sign. It means we are learning something new. “Settler” is not meant as a pejorative, but simply as an identifier, to bring clarity, to enable dialogue. Here is why the term makes sense to me.
Indigenous peoples live for a long time in fixed territories. To regulate their relationships with their neighbours, they greet each other at the boundary. Let me demonstrate, with my own statement.
“Hi, my name is Yellow Cedar. My Scottish ancestors came here when the English banned our culture and language, massacred us with superior technology, burned our crofts, and put the survivors on boats for Canada. Needing a place to live, we settled in your territories, for which we are grateful.
“In this time of emergency, I respectfully enter Pacheedaht Territory, invited by Elder Bill Jones, to help protect both the forest and people, whom I consider my family, from irreparable harm done by corporations and governments beyond both of our control.”
Bringing a gift is a traditional greeting when entering a territory. At Fairy Creek, the gift to bring is your self. True reconciliation is born in people’s hearts, one by one. How can we build this if we are isolated from each other?
Rainbow Eyes, the first on the Fairy Creek blockades to be arrested (photo by Dawna Mueller)
Rainbow Eyes was the first to be arrested. You can see in her eyes that she knows what she is up against, but also the depth of her resolve. Will you come down to Fairy Creek to stand with her, laugh and cry with her, learn from her leadership, and help protect her from violence?
Yellow Cedar is a writer based on Canada’s West Coast. See his earlier entries, including about his first arrest, here and here.
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