Island-Wide Haida Protest May Drag for Months

By Lloyd Dolha

As the island-wide protest on Haida Gwaii enters its fifth week, there appears to be little chance of resolution of the conflict before the writ is dropped for the provincial election on May 17.

“One month before Election Day they (the provincial government) cannot conduct business; they can’t make any commitments. That’s the law,” said Haida Nation media coordinator, Gilbert Parnell.

While the blockade was sparked by the announcement of the pending $1.2 billion sale of Weyerhaeuser’s timber rights and assets to Toronto-based conglomerate Brascan, it is the Council of Haida Nation’s long unheeded demands for greater consultation and sustainable forest practices that has given the blockade its momentum in the movement residents call “Islands Spirit Rising.”

“Weyerhaeuser has been targeting our cedar at an astonishing rate,” said Parnell. “They are logging the profile of the forest. They are not respecting the cultural, environmental and economic values the company has committed to. The company is just trying to maximize profits at our expense.”

Loggers and Ministry of Forests employees have been barred from crossing key checkpoints and since the first days of the 24 hour-a-day protest few have even bothered to try.

The Haida and their supporters say the provincial government and the company have violated a six-point agreement reached in June 2002 between the Haida, Weyerhaeuser and its employees.

That agreement was reached in the aftermath of the BC Court of Appeal ruling that held that third parties, as well as the provincial and federal governments, are bound by a duty to consult and accommodate First Nations wherever resource development impacts First Nations rights or interests.

The agreement reduced the annual allowable cut until a sustainable harvest level was reached, committed the company to harvest the profile of the forest and set out a plan to ensure the long-term viability of Haida cultural needs.

Of the points agreed upon, most were simply ignored or addressed in a superficial manner.

The Haida say both the company Weyerhaeuser and the Ministry of Forests have demonstrated a complete disregard for island residents needs and wishes when it compromised the Haida Land Use Plan by approving cutting in areas that were designated protected.
Moreover, recent changes to the Forest Act have outraged both natives and non-natives residents alike.

New Forest Act wasteful
In a public bulletin distributed at a meeting in Port Clements on March 20 in the village, the council notes that in the last few years, sections of the Forest Act have been rewritten that set the standards and penalties used to control the waste of the public resource.

The new regulations allow timber companies to waste as much timber as they see fit for the ridiculously low penalty of 25¢ per cubic metre for wasted timber. The removal of the regulation also significantly reduces the stumpage fees, lowering company costs even further.

Another section of the act that was completely removed is the “Cut Control” regulations. This regulation offered communities dependant on the forest resource some protection from the boom and bust cycles associated with the industry. The cut control regulated the amount of timber the industry could cut annually and over a five-year period.

A company could cut 50 percent as a minimum and 150 percent as a maximum of its annual allowable cut in any one year as long as at the end of the five-year period, the cut fell within ten percent of the five-year annual allowable cut.

Now, forest corporations can shut down operations indefinitely without penalty, despite disastrous effects on communities that rely on those jobs.

Forest companies can now essentially pick and choose where and when they want to cut, regardless of community needs.

These actions, say the Haida and their supporters, demonstrate that the Ministry of Forests and has been implicit in allowing the industry to dominate and control the entire region.

The Haida estimate that $6 billion worth of timber, mostly old-growth Cedar, has been taken off the islands over the years.
Early in the protest, the Haida seized five barge loads of timber at an estimated value of $50 million at Ferguson Bay. That action was taken under legal consultation because of the breach of the June 2002 agreement.

More recently, the Haida have been meeting with provincial officials privately to consider offers to bring the conflict to a peaceful resolution.

A plan has been put on the table that would see some 200,000 hectares of land taken out of timber harvest licenses.