Premier John Horgan said logging protesters blocking forestry areas near Port Renfrew should respect the wishes of the Pacheedaht First Nation, whose leadership say “activism” isn’t wanted on their traditional territory.
“I was grateful to see both hereditary chief [Frank] Queesto Jones and elected chief Jeff Jones speak quite forcefully to people who are creating dissent within their communities, saying that they would prefer that they be left alone to manage these issues in the interest of the people at the territory,” Horgan said during a press conference on Tuesday.
“I think that’s an appropriate request by the people who have rights and title. If there are those who claim that they are standing up for Indigenous rights, they’re certainly not doing that. They’re disregarding the requests of the not just the elected, but hereditary leadership as well.”
The Pacheedaht Nation leadership issued a statement on Monday saying it will determine the future of forests in its territory with a resource stewardship plan, adding it does not support protesters blocking logging access in the Fairy Creek area near Port Renfrew.
“We do not welcome or support unsolicited involvement or interference by others in our territory, including third-party activism,” said the statement signed by the two chiefs. “Pacheedaht needs to be left in peace to engage in our community led stewardship planning process so that we can determine our own way forward as a strong and independent nation.”
The Rainforest Flying Squad, which is organizing the blockades, said late Tuesday it has no intention of moving on.
The group said since last August, “we have been invited guests on Pacheedaht land by elder William [Bill] Jones … and other members of the Pacheedaht band continue to welcome our blockades on their territory at this time. We are grateful for their support, wisdom and guidance.”
The group said to properly respect First Nations rights and title and protect old-growth forests, the B.C. government must fund economic alternatives for First Nations with logging interests involving old-growth forests.
Horgan, whose riding include the Pacheedaht territory, said there are “very polarizing issues” surrounding plans for logging in the region.
“I understand that they take time to resolve and that the Pacheedaht have asked for time to have their own internal discussions about how they use the land that has been theirs for time immemorial,” he said. “I think that people should respect that.”
Raincoast Flying Squad continues to raise money to support its efforts to save old-growth stands on the South Island, hitting $265,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. The group claims to have a groundswell of support from people around the province, including some members of the Pacheedaht.
The blockades have been served an B.C. Supreme Court injunction by Teal-Jones Group, which has the tenure to log a 200-hectare area just outside the protected Fairy Creek watershed.
Horgan noted the province and Pacheedaht are in the final stages of treaty negotiations and “other arrangements they have with people in their territory to live in harmony to protect the biodiversity that is of course their heritage, and all of our collective heritage, and I think that people should respect that.”
The Pacheedaht said its integrated resource stewardship plan will include the identification of special sites, traditional-use areas and places where conservation measures will be in place. The statement said its has secured commitments from tenure holders and the province to suspend and defer third-party forestry activities within “specific areas identified by Pacheedaht.”
Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones said many people in his community are supporting the protesters.
“I implore people to continue to stand with me to protect our forests from destruction and colonialism because we need allies on the ground to stop old growth logging in my home territory, and for my future generations and relatives,” he said in a statement.
Tzeporah Berman, a central figure in the Cloyoquot Sound protests in the 1990s and now a program director at environmental group Stand Earth, said the province’s failure to deliver on a promise to defer logging in old-growth forests is leading to conflict. “People care deeply about these ancient forests and the province must ensure all parties — including logging companies — stand down to maintain all options and restore faith in the unfolding process. Deferrals now will maintain all options. Without deferrals, irreplaceable old growth will be lost forever.”