UPDATE: First Nations tell B.C. to pause old growth logging on southwest Vancouver Island

Statement comes as traditional territory continues to experience high-profile blockades and arrests

Leaders of the Huy-ay-aht, Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations sign an declaration to take back power over the resources on their traditional territories. The agreement includes telling the provincial government to stop old-growth logging for two years. (Huu-ay-aht First Nation photo)

Leaders of the Huy-ay-aht, Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations sign an declaration to take back power over the resources on their traditional territories. The agreement includes telling the provincial government to stop old-growth logging for two years. (Huu-ay-aht First Nation photo)

Three Vancouver Island First Nations have joined their voices to tell the province to defer old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran areas for the next two years.

The southwest Island-based Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations signed the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration on Friday, June 4, to take back power over their traditional territories. On Saturday, they formally told the provincial government to defer old-growth logging in those areas while the First Nations prepare their own plans for stewardship of their traditional territories.

“We have made a commitment to our people to manage the resources on our ḥahahuułi the way our ancestors did – guided by our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one),” explained Huu-ay-aht Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters), Ditidaht Chabut Satiixub (Hereditary Chief Paul Tate), and Pacheedaht’s Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones.

“We are in a place of reconciliation now and relationships have evolved to include First Nations. It is time for us to learn from the mistakes that have been made and take back our authority over our ḥahahuułi.”

Besides the disputed old-growth stands, the Nations are permitting other approved forestry operations to continue within their territories. The Huu-ay-aht had previously deferred all logging on their own treaty lands.

The territories in question have been the subject of old-growth logging protests for months, leading to more than 170 arrests since May 17. That’s when police began enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction that prohibits blockades on Tree Farm Licence 46 which includes the controversial Fairy Creek and Caycuse watersheds.

The provincial government stated on Monday afternoon that it will honour the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration.

“These Nations are the holders of constitutionally protected Indigenous interests within their traditional territories,” Premier John Horgan said. “It is from this position that the chiefs have approached us.

“We further recognize the three Nations will continue to exercise their constitutionally protected Indigenous interests over the protected areas.

“We honour the Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration. And we are pleased to enter into respectful discussions with the Nations regarding their request. We understand the request must be addressed expeditiously, and we will ensure a prompt response.

“Our government is committed to reconciliation. True reconciliation means meaningful partnerships. I know the three Nations are ready to enter into these discussions in a spirit of good faith, and with a goal of achieving a mutually satisfactory resolution. Our government is as well.”

Teal Jones, which has logging rights to TFL 46, agreed to stop old-growth logging in the area.

“Teal Jones acknowledges the ancestral territories of all First Nations on which we operate and is committed to reconciliation,” the company stated. “In recent years Teal Jones has had productive working relationships with 106 First Nations in BC, the specifics of each engagement reflecting the interests of the First Nation.

“We will abide by the declaration issued today, and look forward to engaging with the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations as they develop Integrated Resource Forest Stewardship Plans.”

Charlie Forrester of the BC Forestry Association said the declaration is a positive thing for all parties.

“It’s their land,” he said. “If they want to shut things down for two years and come up with a plan, that’s a good thing. It’s no one’s business but their own.”

The Hišuk ma c̕awak Declaration says the three sacred principles are often ignored, and that First Nations are the last to benefit from what is taken out of the territory, and the last to be asked what must be put back. The three Nations are already engaged in extensive stewardship efforts on their territories to repair damage done in the past and to plan for future generationss.

“Our three Nations look forward to building a future based on respectful nation-to-nation relationships with other governments that are informed by Indigenous history, Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous rights, and Indigenous priorities,” said Chief Councillor of the Pacheedaht First Nation Jeff Jones. “We ask that all peoples both Indigenous and non-Indigenous learn and move forward together and that by working together we can realize a future that is fair, just, and equitable.”

The declaration states third parties must respect the Nations’ governance, stewardship, sacred principles, and right to benefit from the resources.

“It is our responsibility to take care of our land for future generations – we are the decision makers,” explained Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “Our citizens have a constitutionally protected right to manage and benefit from our lands, waters, and resources.”

“Everything we need comes from our forests and our marine habitats in our traditional territory,” explained Ditidaht Elected Chief Brian Tate. “It is time for the people who come to our territory to respect that and to recognize the rights we have to what happens in our ḥahahuułi. What we take out must be put back in.”

READ MORE: Solidarity builds for Indigenous claims over Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island

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