Nuxalk People obstruct logging of Itsa old-growth forest, 1995-1998

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Timing
Time Period:  
September
1995
to
October
1998
Location and Goals
Country: 
Canada
Location City/State/Province: 
King Island and Bella Coola, British Columbia
Location Description: 
Ancestral territory of the Nuxalk People
Goals: 
To prevent Interfor from logging Itsa, an area of King Island that is the sacred site of origin of the Nuxalk people.
 

The Nuxalk people live mid-way up the British Columbian coast, in the region around the town Bella Coola. The Nuxalk have long refused to enter into any treaties with Canada or cede any of their ancestral territory to the national or provincial government. As such, they still claim sovereign rights to much land that the government claims belongs to it. One of those areas is King Island. On King Island is a valley called Itsa, which, according to the Nuxalk, is the sacred place of origin of their people.

In 1995, the Canadian government gave International Forest Products Co. (Interfor) the right to do clearcut logging of Itsa. Clearcutting is a logging practice in which every single tree in an area is cut down, leaving nothing where there was once an old-growth forest. Faced with the destruction of their spiritual home, a band of Nuxalk led by hereditary chiefs mounted a campaign to save Itsa. This band, though led by the hereditary chiefs, did not have the support of the elected Nuxalk council, and, based on news reports, the Nuxalk population seems to have been divided over the tactics used in this campaign. In order to effectively combat Interfor, the Nuxalk contacted the Forest Action Network (FAN), a radical group experienced in direct action tactics against forestry operations. The Nuxalk and FAN signed a protocol agreement which made clear that the Nuxalk would have the final word, but FAN would provide guidance and human resources.

In the first week of September 1995, forty Nuxalk and FAN activists set up camp near Fog Creek on King Island, at the fore of a logging road Interfor was building into Itsa. Eight of the activists climbed trees in the path of the proposed road and began a tree-sit. Others hung signs and banners. In response, Interfor sought and received a court injunction against the protesters, which required the Nuxalk and FAN to leave the site within 24 hours. When Interfor representatives and police served the injunction to the protesters on September 8, the chiefs burned the injunction and informed the Interfor employees and police that they were trespassing in Nuxalk territory.

Nuxalk and FAN activists continued the blockade for the next two weeks. Their actions received media attention in Vancouver, the largest city in British Columbia. Interfor and government representatives returned several times and offered small environmental concessions (installing silk screens to prevent mud from reaching streams, and the like) in exchange for the protesters leaving. The Nuxalk refused to move, though, unless Interfor stopped building the road altogether. Finally, on September 27, an expert team of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) moved in and arrested 22 of the activists, including three chiefs of the Nuxalk. The RCMP force included three skilled tree-climbers to remove the tree-sitting activists.

That evening, the three chiefs, Qwatsinas (Ed Moody), Nuximlayc (Lawrence Pootlass) and Slicxwliqw’ (Charlie Nelson), issued written statements from their jail cells, reaffirming Nuxalk sovereignty and offering defiance to Interfor and the Canadian government. All arrestees refused to sign a statement in which they would have agreed not to return to King Island. While the arrestees were still in jail, other Nuxalk and FAN activists staged a protest on September 28 at the district forest service office in Bella Coola. While voicing support for the arrestees and opposing the logging of Itsa, the protesters also stated their desire for a complete logging moratorium on the B.C. coast. No more arrests were made at this rally.

After being released from jail, the 22 people arrested, which included five FAN activists and the 17 Nuxalk people, repeatedly failed to show up for their court dates, on the ground that the B.C. government had no authority over actions taken on Nuxalk land. In January, Qwatsinas and Nuximlayc travelled to Los Angeles to hold a prayer service and fundraiser with environmentally-conscious Hollywood celebrities. This event raised enough money to fund their campaign for the next year. Around the same time, a court issued an arrest warrant for the activists when they missed another court date. RCMP forces did not carry out the warrant until late March, when they arrested thirteen of the activists in Bella Coola, who were subsequently held until their trial. At trial, all were convicted of contempt of court; the news record is unclear on the matter of sentencing, but it is evident that jail terms, if any, were short. In the process of the trial, the campaign gained the support of two members of the European Parliament, Irene Soltwedel-Schafer and Martin Schulz, who wrote letters urging that the charges be dropped.

In the summer of 1996, the campaign stayed in the news when eight FAN members suspended themselves from an Interfor logging barge in Bella Coola, delaying the barge for several days. The protestors were arrested and cited.

The campaign quieted down as logging stopped for the winter, but resumed again the next summer. On May 29, 1997, Nuximlayc issued a statement for Interfor that said, “We are not involved or negotiating under the BC Treaty process [that would sign away their land]. . . You must consider this as a notice to your company to leave our forests alone.” When Interfor did not cease operations, sixty activists, including Nuxalk people and FAN, as well as Greenpeace, Bearwatch, and People’s Action for Threatened Habitat (PATH), again blockaded the logging road at Fog Creek on King Island. The blockade began on June 5, with an encampment that included a 12-foot tripod structure with two activists on top, two more activists suspended from forestry machinery, and a large banner that said, “Standing together to protect the Great Bear Rainforest." On June 6, a court issued an injunction demanding that the protesters leave. Greenpeace appealed the injunction, which allowed the protestersto remain for twenty days, despite continuous police presence at the blockade site. On June 25, the appeal was denied and police arrested 24 activists.

Of note at this second blockade was the presence of counter-protesters from among the Nuxalk people. Several dozen people, including one of the leaders of the elected Nuxalk council, opposed the blockades on the grounds that they were too confrontational, and accused Greenpeace and FAN of trying to speak for the indigenous peoples. Some of those involved were employed by the logging industry, and losing money because of the protests. In response, Qwatsinas reiterated that the environmental activists had been invited by his band of separatist Nuxalk. When the arrestees went on trial in Vancouver in early August, a group of sixteen Nuxalk travelled from Bella Coola to voice their opposition to the anti-logging campaign.

When the trial concluded in February 1998, all activists were given probation, and those who were suspended in tripods or from machinery received 21-day jail sentences. The Nuxalk band of resisters did not attempt to delay or evade this trial in the same manner as the first one.

By October 1998, Interfor had completely stripped Itsa of its trees, and the Nuxalk stopped their campaign to save this part of the forest. In the 2000s, however, the Nuxalk again became involved in the struggle against logging on other parts of their territory and elsewhere in British Columbia.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Nuxalk House of Smayutsa. <http://www.nuxalk.net/index.html>.

Hamilton, Gordon. "Logging protest escalates as group burns court injunction." Vancouver Sun. 26 September 1995.

Hamilton, Gordon. "19 logging foes arrested on island after police raid." Vancouver Sun. 27 September 1995.

Hall, Neal. "Chiefs obligated to stay in prison." Vancouver Sun. 28 September 1995.

Hamilton, Gordon. "Logging protest moves to Bella Coola." Vancouver Sun. 28 September 1995.

Still, Larry. "22 logging protesters win another delay: criminal-contempt trial is put off until Jan. 15 as native Indian defendants fail to show up again." Vancouver Sun. 8 December 1995.

Finnnigan, David. "Nuxalk chiefs in L.A. on eve of trial." Vancouver Sun. 13 January 1995.

Still, Larry. "Warrants issued for logging foes." Vancouver Sun. 23 January 1996.

Gram, Karen. "Police unwilling to search for protesters." Vancouver Sun. 13 February 1996.

Still, Larry. "Judge rejects lawyer's plea to release logging protesters: Thirteen adults and one juvenile were arrested Thursday in Bella Coola and flown to Vancouver.: Judge admonishes accused." Vancouver Sun. 22 March 1996.

Bell, Stewart. "European MPs urge PM to drop charges against protesters: The RCMP is accused of raiding Indians' homes without legal permission after a logging road blockade near Bella Coola." Vancouver Sun. 2 April 1996.

Smith, David. "Greenpeace, a loser in court, won't stop logging protests." Vancouver Sun. 23 August 1996.

Brett, Dawn. "Indians fight environmentalists: A shoving match broke out near Bella Coola when females of the Nuxalk band blocked an activist's access to her boat." Vancouver Sun. 11 June 1997.

Pynn, Larry. "Greenpeace activists wait to be arrested: On the remote King Island, a band assembled from around the world anticipates today's court decision." Vancouver Sun. 19 June 1997.

Pynn, Larry, Torobin, Jeremy and Hall, Neal. "King Island logging protesters in jail; 20-day illegal blockade has ended: Forest operations are to resume today while demonstrators face contempt of court charges in Vancouver's B.C. Supreme Court." Vancouver Sun. 25 June 1997.

Bellett, Gerry. "Logging protesters assailed by 16 Bella Coola residents: Angry contingent travels to Vancouver to witness court case against "eco-terrorists."" Vancouver Sun. 1 August 1997.

"Protesters' jail terms suspended." Vancouver Sun. 2 February 1998.

Hall, Neal. 4 environmentalists jailed 21 days over logging blockade: Fourteen others arrested on King Island last summer are spared jail sentences." Vancouver Sun. 4 April 1998.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
William Lawrence, 08/05/2011