The Pacheedaht First Nation says the Capital Regional District should mind its own business when it comes to forest resources on their traditional territory.
A motion led by Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt and supported by other directors recommending the CRD call on the province to protect old-growth stands in the Fairy Creek area near Port Renfrew didn’t get to a vote during Wednesday’s CRD board meeting.
Isitt tried to amend the motion, which he filed a month earlier, by removing all references to the Pacheedaht and Fairy Creek, and using more generic terms about supporting a transition away old-growth logging.
Isitt said Thursday he changed the wording after the CRD received a terse letter from the Pacheedaht saying it did not welcome the “unsolicited interference or involvement” from the region’s governing body. He will introduce the new motion at the next meeting.
CRD board chair Colin Plant wouldn’t allow the amended motion, citing procedure, and said Isitt’s original motion would start the next board meeting on May 26.
That caused an uproar among some CRD directors, including Juan de Fuca Electoral Area’s Mike Hicks, who represents Port Renfrew, as well as Metchosin Mayor John Ranns and Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, who all wanted to debate the issue.
Similar motions surrounding old growth and Fairy Creek have been carried by municipal councils in Nanaimo, Victoria, Highlands, Port Moody and Powell River over the past two months.
In its letter, the Pacheedaht said the nation “strongly urges the CRD board to … show an appropriate level of respect to the sovereignty and wishes of our Nation, respect our desire for self-determination and act appropriately by rejecting the proposed motion.”
Fairy Creek has become a lightning rod in the efforts to protect old-growth forests. Protesters have blocked access to a 200-hectare cut block on a ridge line of the Fairy Creek watershed for more than nine months, despite a Supreme Court injunction for their removal.
Confrontations between loggers and activists this month near the Walbran Valley have also sparked intense interest in protecting old growth.
The Pacheedaht have an agreement to do business in its territory with Tree Farm Licence 46 and forestry company Teal Jones Group, which owns the tenure. It provides logging jobs, silviculture contracting and other forestry management practices and a log supply for a mill owned by the Pacheedaht near Port Renfrew.
The First Nation referenced its April 12 statement that it will determine what will be logged and preserved in its territory through its Integrated Resource Stewardship Plan. The Pacheedaht said their plan takes into account fish and wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing, cultural practices including ensuring a perpetual supply of large old growth red cedar for canoe building, longhouses, totems, artifacts and carving, bark stripping for traditional weaving, plus spiritual practices, drinking water protection, stream restoration, tourism, recreation, self-determination, and overall sovereignty and rights and title.
“Our constitutional right to make decisions about forestry resources in our Territory, as governing authority in our Territory, must be respected,” said a statement signed by Pacheedaht Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones and chief councillor Jeff Jones.
The motion before the CRD is to work with the Pacheedaht and the province to pursue protection of the last unlogged watershed in the San Juan River system, which is in the CRD.
It says B.C. should defer logging old-growth until it has addressed recommendations in the independent Old Growth Strategic Review, commissioned by the province. The report recommended deferring logging in old forests, where diverse ecosystems are at risk, until a new forest management strategy is developed.
The motion also calls on the province to allocate funding to support the economic transition of affected First Nations and non-First Nation workers.
The recommendation was submitted by Isitt, Saltspring Island director Gary Holman, Ned Taylor and Nathalie Chambers of Saanich, Dave Howe of Southern Gulf Islands and Ken Williams of Highlands.
Isitt said a new draft of the motion is being fine-tuned for the May 26 meeting. References to the Pacheedaht and Fairy Creek have been removed, he said, adding “the letter and feedback from the employee of Pacheedaht was helpful.”
“Pacheedaht First Nation is concerned that third-party interference on our Nation’s interests and affairs, including resource stewardship, is polarizing and harming our community, and we have asked for it to cease,” the Pacheedaht said in a statement.
It said the Pacheedaht is creating an integrated resource stewardship plan involving its entire community to guide the future management of its traditional territory.
The nation also asked the CRD to provide “in writing how CRD is compelled to develop policy or otherwise take action that will affect CRD residents in response to lobbying received from distant, unrelated municipal governments, and please explain how such lobbying could compel CRD to continue to ignore the clearly-articulated positions of First Nations, including Pacheedaht.”
The nation said it encourages the CRD to continue to focus on policy, planning and service delivery, and to work with them and the nearby communities on “priority matters within CRD jurisdiction.”
Hicks said in an interview Thursday that local governments shouldn’t be telling First Nations what they can do on their territory.
“We shouldn’t be interfering in the management of their forestry resources,” he said. “For the CRD or the City of Victoria or anyone else to influence or interfere with that is totally wrong. It causes huge distrust with the Pacheedaht people, and they are suffering because of this. This is a big deal, and it’s not a game.”