In my June 16, 2021 TideChange post Colour My World Orange I asserted, “Today the gig is up. It is time to put away the pretenses and platitudes. It is time for settler governments, complicit in this hideous death and cover up of so many children, to capitulate—to meet all demands unquestioning; to come to a settlement that recognizes past horrors and points a way forward where we can finally put this grim past behind us and move forward with a meaningful and implemented justice for all.” Two weeks later, in Saving Old Growth or Perpetuating the Same Vacuous Old Story I criticize the Horgan government for approving, then—in response to a request from the Pacheedaht Nation temporarily halting old growth logging plans on dozens of hectares of old-growth in the Fairy Creek drainage near Port Renfew on Vancouver Island.
What I failed to adequately consider is that the Fairy Creek watershed of southern Vancouver Island is part of Tree Farm License 46, a 59,000-hectare timber harvesting tenure within the unceded territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation whose band council wants to proceed with logging the old growth in their territory. If one were to do as I suggest and “meet all demands unquestioning…”one would have to permit whatever logging they wish to do “unquestioningly.”
The issue is complicated by the fact that the Pacheedaht Nation is, itself, divided over the issue of logging old growth in their territory.
While the band council owns three sawmills specialized in processing old growth and has signed a revenue-sharing agreement with the province for logging in its territory, other band members, including elder Bill Jones, see larger values in old growth trees than the transitory bucks to be gained from cutting down these ecosystem supporting 1,000 year-old giant yellow cedar and Douglas fir trees.
According to Elder Bill Jones the protesters are there at his invitation. He has accused the band council of “thinking the forest is a commodity.” Yet we have all thought of forests as a commodity. It is the core concept of capitalist society—nature is a “commodity” to be consumed in our rush to produce the “goods” which produce the dollars that are the life blood of capitalism.
So how is the BC government to respond to such divided opinion? Well, in settler communities the government speaks (theoretically) for the overall community and little heed is given to minorities with divergent views. In BC the government has, so far, ruled in the interests of logging companies who would like to turn every tree into short term timber harvesting jobs and revenue for distant investors who aren’t the slightest bid interested in how they amass their fortunes. In First Nations the band council is assumed to speak for the band. It would be valuable to know how the band members at large feel about logging old growth—old growth that is particularly valuable to cut down and send to markets hungry for the high quality lumber from old growth vs the high quality of old growth forests in anchoring important and irreplaceable ecological relationships.
Well the BC settler government has been very clear: if First Nations stand in the way of resource development, as in Site C or Fairy Creek, then First Nations must give way to economic interests; if First Nations are inviting resource development in their territory, then ecological considerations must be tossed to allow First Nations to develop the resources on their lands. If hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs want to preserve their lands but Wet’suwet’en village councillors want resource rents for putting a gas pipeline across their territory—then (you guessed it!) clear cutting for the pipeline must proceed immediately.
It’s like a roulette wheel where if the spin ends up on the white then resource development is to go ahead of all ecological values. If the roulette when ends on black then resource development is to go ahead of any values other than profits.
The current BC government is convinced that the majority of BC settlers want to extract resources regardless of ecological consequences and without any heed to the long term impact of our rapacious relation to our once bountiful but increasingly endangered Earth.
But back to the point we started with: what to do when some settlers and some First Nations peoples see preserving the ecological well being on which we all (setters and First Nations) depend on for our quality of life as our primary value AND other (settlers and First Nations) see extracting resources from nature as our most important relation to the natural world. (Well the fires and scorched earth of the recent BC heat wave suggests we may well depend on ecological balance for our lives as well as our livelihoods on a healthy, functioning biosphere.)
I know in my heart and mind that the time is long past for settler governments to recognize the imperative to honour First Nations right to control their own destinies on their own lands.
When you think of the brutal oppression of First Nations peoples and the stealing of their lands to create commercial value in the banks and stock markets of setters, who could reasonably argue that settlers, no matter what their values, can now demand that First Nations peoples abide by values foisted on them by settlers—no matter how ecologically sound those values may be.
There is, of course, the fact that First Nations have always been more connected to the value of a functioning natural world than settlers with their rapacious view of how humans should relate to the natural world. If we had—long ago—listened to First Nations about how to live in harmony with the natural world, we would not, now, be suffering through stifling heat and the province would not be struggling to keep the out of control fires from consuming our communities.
I don’t want to see the last of the old growth cut down and I don’t want to see First Nations denied the right to decide about how to manage their unceded lands.
Given the past and present values of the NDP in office, I think it is obvious that the NDP will not /cannot make the changes we need to reset our relation to the natural world and to First Nations. I would say it is time to vote Green and let someone else with more ecological values have a try at defining a new relation to the natural world and to First Nations peoples/values. But the danger is that in voting Green in BC one could easily ensure the election of the Liberals who don’t even make a pretense of holding any kind of ecological value and who have displayed no desire to define a more just and mutually sustaining relation with First Nations peoples.
So dead end! Well, not necessarily. If we could define/agree on a way to make sure that voting Green did not elect a Liberal, then—I think—many, MANY(!) more people would feel free to vote for a BC Green Party candidate. The idea of proportional representation was tried and failed and those who do not want people to feel free to vote their first choice now know how to defeat electoral reform referendum. One can argue for the value of proportional rep or preferential ballot but it won’t come up before the next election and the next BC election is going to be a watershed moment for BC. Either we elect, in the next provincial election, a government that cares about environmental values and just relations with First Nations or the dye will be cast with little hope of finding our way to a more just and sustainable province.
The good news is I think we can do it if we start organizing now. We could, faced with raging fires and an urgent need to redefine our devastating relations with First Nations DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. We could elect a Green Party government in BC –with an NDP balance of power to remind them of social justice values—or—an NDP minority government so reduced that it has to take Green Party members into key cabinet positions.
But we would have to start now. We would have to define a way (not to join the parties together—the spike that has eviscerated previous red/green efforts) to form a coalition that will actively campaign for a NDP/Green government by selectively supporting provincial candidates who support red/green values and who can clearly out poll the Liberal candidate in particular ridings. It would be a first priority to encourage candidates from First Nations to run for office as legislative cabinet destined spokespersons to bring First Nations peoples and values into all government decision making.
I am interested in hearing from readers who see merit in this proposal or who have a different but related vision of how we can elect a government in BC that is, in practice as well as words, dedicated to defining a mutually sustaining relation with the natural world and a just relationship with First Nations peoples.
You can reply in the comments section next to this post. I am also available at nreynolds(at)shaw.ca.