HAIDA GWAII, British Columbia - Since March 21, residents of Haida Gwaii,
also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands off the west coast of Canada,
have blockaded roads to a log-sorting facility used by Weyerhaeuser, the
giant American timber-products company. Members of the Haida Nation and
their non-Native neighbors have also closed down the local office of the
Canadian Ministry of Forests.
The day before the checkpoints were set up, Haida Nation President Guujaaw
appealed to Adrienne Clarkson, the governor general of Canada, for help in
resolving the situation. Clarkson's office announced that she will
personally deal with the request, though at press time she had not yet done
The protesters object to Weyerhaeuser's recent $1.2 billion deal
transferring a logging lease to Brascan Corp. Cutting permits issued by the
province of British Columbia that allow logging in protected areas are
another flashpoint. Signs reading "Enough is Enough" can be seen on roads
to the corporation's log-processing area, located west of the town of Queen
The province and the islanders had just completed a land-use planning
process when the cutting permits were approved, according to Haida tribal
spokesman Gilbert Parnell. "The province had worked very hard with us -
Haida and non-Haida alike - to come up with an island-wide plan based on
sustainability and respect for the land," he said.
The Haidas maintain, as they have for decades, that they are not
anti-logging. "We're looking for economic and environmental sustainability,
with jobs for all islanders," explained Barbara Wilson, Haida, cultural
liaison specialist at Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage
The province's actions run counter to a unanimous November 2004 decision by
the Supreme Court of Canada, which required it to consult with and
accommodate indigenous people in matters that impact land claims. Since the
Haidas claim ownership of the archipelago and are engaged in treaty
negotiations, they argue that the court's decision applies in the current
The court also warned British Columbia not to hide behind legislation that
attempts to absolve it of responsibilities to Native people. However, the
province appears to be doing just that with the recent passage of
legislation called the Significant Projects Streamlining Act. The sweeping
law allows British Columbia to remove "constraints" to projects that it
considers "provincially significant" - essentially clearing the way for
"The province is here to help industry get as much as it can as fast as it
can," said Parnell. "The people making decisions don't live here on Haida
Gwaii. They don't wake up in the morning and see what their decisions have
Weyerhaeuser feels its business practices have been appropriate, even
though they impact resources that are the subject of current treaty
negotiations, according to Sarah Goodman, Weyerhaeuser's public relations
manager. "Unfortunate" was how Goodman described the protest: "It has
affected the jobs of local people."
Until the Haidas' concerns are dealt with, the community and its local
allies will turn back all loggers. They'll barricade the roads "for as long
as it takes," said Parnell.
The islands, where the Haidas have lived for millennia, have been called a
"northern Galapagos" because of their biodiversity and because many plant
and animal species there have evolved independent of mainland relatives.
Covered with old-growth forests, they form what is widely described as one
of North America's most spectacular landscapes.
"I've traveled all over the world, and I can tell you this is the most
beautiful place I've ever seen," said Nika Collison, Haida, a volunteer
coordinator of the protest. Her work involves making sure the checkpoints
are manned 24 hours a day.
"I was born into this," Collison said. "My generation inherited these
issues, but also the ability to resolve them for the generations to come.
My daughter, who is one month old, has already been on the line with me
Elders are also actively involved. "My dad, who's 92, is there all day,
every day," said Wilson. Some of the older folks are veterans of the 1985
Lyell Island demonstrations against irresponsible logging and the
destruction of the Haida Gwaii forest ecosystem. Extensive resource
extraction, including both logging and mining, came to the island chain
during the 1950s. Prior to that, just a relatively small amount of spruce
had been harvested to make warplanes during World War II. Haida people were
soon dismayed by the devastation industry caused to their traditional
landscape and its bounty.
There has been no violence in the Haida Nation's current action, nor has it
been met with violence. "One law takes precedence over everything, and that
is respect - for this place and each other," said Parnell. "We have an
excellent relationship with the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Moreover, people who work for Weyerhaeuser and live here on island know
what we're about, and they respect what we're doing."
On the community's Web site, one participant in the action described
watching as a copper-tongued wooden dog mask - a gift from another First
Nations community signifying guardianship and loyalty - was placed on a
fire along with offerings of food. People watched quietly as the flames
rose and the smoke carried the gifts on their journey to the spirit world.
As the action got underway last week, Ethel Jones, one of the last
remaining veterans of the Lyell Island protests, fell ill and was taken to
the hospital. "She's a matriarch and very important to our people," said
Parnell. "From her hospital bed, she tells us we must continue to fight for
the integrity of our culture and our land. Nonii (Grandmother) reminds us
that we're doing what's right."