Bears, Blockades & Burning Bridges
One of your humble editors asked me to write an article on what's happening in regards to wilderness and resistance in British Columbia. I was slacking off a bit on the deadline, which seems to be what one does when writing for DoD. But I guess it drove said editor to desperation, because the next thing I knew I was in a Welsh jail charged with Criminal Damage (Without Lawful Excuse!) of earth moving equipment, and Attempting to Pervert the Course of Justice (if destroying the land by opencast mining serves the course of public justice, then I'm proud to be a pervert). The editor then told me in no uncertain terms that I wouldn't be getting out until I gave him an article, and that if people don't turn in stories on time he'd make damn sure they all ended up in the nick where they'd have plenty of time to finish overdue articles.
By an Expatriated Biocentric Turtle Island Earth First!er.
I have lived in Canada off and on since the summer of 1993. I spent most of that summer in the Maritimes on the East Coast, working with the Sea Shepherds on their "Cod Wars" campaign. The crew heard on a regular basis incredible stories of the forest defense in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia (BC). We also heard about the Yukon wolf-kill. So, after the Sea Shepherd gig was over, two of us left for BC to check out Clayoquot and start a BC chapter of Friends of the Wolf.
First of all, I need to explain that I use the term British Columbia grudgingly, as 95% of the province is unceded native land. BC is a colonial designation which has no basis in law or ethics, and I consider it a virtual place if anything. But in order to describe the numerous bioregions and peoples who live there, for now we will settle with the term.
When I try and explain what's happening to BC's wilderness, the best comparison I can make is to the Third Reich's Final Solution for their "undesirables." In B.C., the Forest Service considers old-growth forests as decadent, overmature, and messy. The Service is doing its best to make way for young, productive tree farms. Last summer I spoke with a logger in B.C.'s interior who believed that he was preparing for a sustainable future by removing the last 1/5 of 1% of old-growth in that area; huge cedars ripped out of the earth to make way for monocultured saplings. All pristine valleys with profitable timber (and while reaping government subsidies, the industry can make a buck on almost any dead tree) are scheduled to be roaded and then logged by 2014, the Ministry of Forest's Final Solution for the problem of messy rainforests. The Wildlife Branch has similar plans for such troublesome critters as wolves and bears, and BC Hydro wants to make sure that all rivers are dammed to provide electricity for cities and water for the American West, which is drying up.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), once the level of water flowing across the border increases, the tap cannot be turned off, even in times of drought or national emergencies. Look at the Yukon River on a map: under the North American Water and Power Alliance plan, water will be diverted from all the way the fuck up there, down through the Rocky Mountain trench, and ultimately to the Southern U.S. for golf courses and cattle ranches.
Old-growth Rainforests (Big Trees)
The Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS) started as a radical group of various and sundry American draft-dodger hippies, traditional Nuu-Chah-Nuulth natives, tree spikers, and other dissident voices against the clearcut logging of the largest remaining lowland coastal temperate rainforest (280,000 ha.) [located on BC's Vancouver Island]. In fact, one of the former directors of FOCS started the Society for the Protection of Intact Kinetic Ecosystems (SPIKE), which openly advocated spiking and claimed to have put nails into 20,000 trees.
Another director was convicted of burning a bridge to a logging site. Yet, by the summer of 1993, the campaign to save Clayoquot had evolved into one of massive civil disobedience; all summer long, every single day, one of the main logging roads was blockaded by crowds varying from perhaps 5,000 on the first day when the band Midnight Oil played, to just a handful of folks. Over 1,000 people were arrested that summer for criminal contempt of court by defying a court injunction to stay off the road. An extraordinary diversity of people came out and got involved: from raging grannies to loggers, peaceheads to saboteurs (more on that in a moment), New Agers to Anglican clerics, people came from all walks to take part. Hell, even a dozen Basques showed up who spoke no English but said in Spanish, "clearcutting kills men and the beasts." Unfortunately, the campaign was to a certain extent controlled by the "peace nazis," who were afflicted with a bad case of tunnel vision. Even though there were often hundreds of people around, the only form of protest allowed by FOCS was the stand-in-the-road-while-they-read-you-the-injunction-and-then-cart-you-off demonstration; consequently, there were only a few days all year that the logging was actually stopped. Usually, it was only a matter of a few minutes for the police to remove the demonstrators and then the trucks rolled on by.
Earth First! was definitely not welcome at that point, nor were tree-sitters, or lock-ons, or elves. Even though many FOCS activists are EF!ers, that summer saw a definite change of tactics in Clayoquot, one which perhaps foreshadowed the FoE/EF! conflict here. Many years of hard work by FOCS, and help from international groups like EF!, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network among others, has resulted in the main logging company (Macmillan Bloedel) pulling out of Clayoquot, and the other company has had its cut reduced by 45%.
In a sense, Clayoquot has been saved and should be considered a victory. On the other hand, the government and timber industry are using the tiny area of Clayoquot as a smokescreen to cover up the fact that they are clearcutting the rest of the province.
For instance, according to the Forest Action Network (FAN), who organize a forest defense campaign out of a remote town called Bella Coola, "The last large pristine area left on the coast is the Great Coast Rainforest encompassing an area larger than Wales. But time is running out. Virtually every pristine valley within the Great Coast Rainforest is to have a road built into it, then logged, within the next five years."
It's not only old-growth rainforest that's on the chopping block. The vast boreal forest of Canada is under assault from multinational corporations such as Mitsubishi, the world's biggest deforester. On the flatlands which characterize Taiga forests, the operations are becoming horrifically mechanized, with remote-controlled machines called feller-bunchers plowing the trees like a field of grain.
Mostly these trees are used for pulp, but Mitsubishi also owns a mill in Northern BC which is the biggest chopstick factory in the world, producing several million pairs of disposable chopsticks per day using the most wasteful logging methods in the province.
About 14% of BC's forests are consumed by Europe, used for everything from toilet paper to garden furniture. For those interested in heading over, this year would be a good time to go to catch the "summer of rage" called against the timber industry.
EF!, FAN, and even Greenpeace will be up to their necks in direct action, defending the big wild. A new group called Peoples Action for Threatened Habitat (PATH) will be conducting actions for a critical wilderness area near Vancouver, along with Coast Mountains EF! (formerly Vancouver EF!).
If you can spring for a ticket over, you won't have to spend much there, as the base camps will have food and shelter.
Directly experiencing wilderness cannot be substituted for, and can only make one's struggle more committed, even if the wildlands are far away from home.
Charismatic Megafauna (Big critters)
The image of Canada as a vast wilderness with infinite supplies of big "game" for foreign trophy hunters is giving way to reality: swiftly declining biodiversity due to resource extraction, development, overhunting, overfishing, pollution, and climate change. But two groups in particular have been active protecting large predators: Bear Watch and Friends of the Wolf - BC (FoW).
Bear Watch was started in Clayoquot by forest defenders who became aware of guide/outfitters taking clients into the Sound to shoot bears. Guide/Outfitting is an extremely lucrative industry, attracting mostly foreign thrill-killers who are happy to give thousands of dollars to rednecks and the Wildlife Branch in order to snuff out big animals. In response, Bear Watch organized hunt sab campaigns first in Clayoquot and then other areas, directly confronting the hunters and their guns. In addition, a series of high-profile media campaigns and protests has made trophy hunting a major issue.
Another development was the formation of the Earth Liberation Army (ELA), and the Justice Department (JD). The ELA embarked on a series of attacks against the guide/outfitting industry by torching cabins, stink-bombing offices, monkeywrenching vehicles, and otherwise wreaking havoc. A hunting lobby group tried to link Bear Watch to these actions because two convicted ALF activists were involved with the group, but Bear Watch sued and earned money and big-time apologies from the beleaguered bloodsportsmen. The JD, according to the Old Bill, sent razor blade booby-trapped envelopes to every Guide/Outfitter, and apparently some letter bombs as well. Judging from the reaction by the industry and the police, the Guide/Outfitters seem to have had the fear of God instilled in them.
Wolves suffer from a persecution unlike any other animal in North America, save perhaps sharks. Although this is changing, and a growing movement of wolf lovers has put across the simple fact that no healthy wolf in the wild has ever attacked anyone, government "managers" and other biologist pests still allow the slaughter to continue. Besides official wolf-kills where helicopter gunships wipe out packs, there are still open season hunting regulations which allow anyone to kill wolves in Canada without a permit.
The Yukon Department of Renewable Resources are shooting wolves with tranquilizers and sterilizing the alpha males. Guide/Outfitters advertise killing wolves as a bonus to the regular hunt.
Some of you reading this have perhaps heard of FoW and the campaign against the Yukon wolf-kill. In large part due to FoW's hunt sabbing and direct actions, the Yukon government has ended the program, and an enormous amount of attention was focussed on the slaughter of wolves. In addition, the group brought a lot of people together who went on to work together on other issues. However, I left the group after the first winter up North because of a massive row with my fellow co-founder, Dennis Alvey. Two more years passed before a letter written by ALF activist David Barbaresh finally brought certain dealings to the light of day. Apparently that letter did the rounds in England and Europe, detailing a sad tale of rampant egoism, funds embezzlement, sexual harrassment, disempowerment of activists, and other crimes committed by Mr. Alvey. What started as an effective grassroots group deteriorated into a total fiasco, and it would behoove people over here to read the letter in order to avoid the same things happening here.
The experiences of Earth First! have been very different between Canada and the U.S. For one thing, even though EF!'s influence has been felt strongly by all groups across Canada, and though there have been effective EF! groups in places like Toronto, Victoria, and Vancouver, it has never really caught on as a movement. Last summer, while working to set up a new forest defense group in the interior mountains of BC, I added an exclamation mark after the end of the group's name in a flyer, and also put the EF! fist in a corner.
Even though the flyer said nothing about EF! and stressed non-violent actions, a firestorm of controversy erupted. Mainstream groups put out press releases saying that American terrorists were infiltrating their ranks and sowing the seeds of violence; the government decried the presence of extremists; the local multinational timber company braced itself for tree-spiking and armed attacks on its operations. Admittedly, the company's sawmill getting torched a few weeks later didn't help matters much. But outside of urban areas this is often the reaction to EF!, and is a major reason why more activists don't organize under that label even if they subscribe to that philosophy.
There are a few reasons for this: public fear of American influences, media hype about eco-terrorism, the mantra of fluffinesss from the peace movement, and the presence of large angry armed men who populate the countryside and work in earth-raping industries. But whereas American EF! is an acknowledged entity, albeit one often opposed violently, EF! just can't seem to be accepted as a movement in Canada. This may be changing; at the very least, direct action is growing, and EF! continues to provide inspiration, experience, and knowledge. The Earth First! Journal and Ecodefense uncannily make their way into remote locales and back-hill hamlets.
The first human inhabitants of Turtle Island (a Native name for North America) lived in a symbiotic harmony with the land that those born in civilization can never fully realize ("The Island Within" by Richard Nelson is a must read for primitivists and those who would rewild Britain). Some animal rightists take issue with the Native use of animals (a recent cover of Arkangel showed a vivisector, butcher, and Innuit as the same enemy); human rights advocates have raised the issue of the existence of slaves and a rigid caste system among some tribes; and conservation biologists point to the alleged extinction of various species of mammals due to over hunting by the first peoples.
These questions aside, a comparison between the indigenous and European way of life on Canada's West Coast is that of sanity vs. insanity, stability vs. entropy, abundance vs. scarcity, and spirituality vs. technology. Without question, the First Nations achieved a balance with their surroundings, which benefited both them and the land.
In "Towards a Detente with History: Confronting Canada's Colonial Legacy", Joyce A. Green describes Canada as an evolving colonial entity, created by imperial and colonial interests, for the express purpose of extending and consolidating those interests at the expense of the indigenous peoples and their contemporary descendants. Perhaps nowhere else in North America (another imperialist term), except for perhaps Chiapas, is this truer on a grand scale than the Canadian province of BC.
Unlike most other regions, provinces or states, where the original inhabitants were coerced into signing treaties with the European conquerors (which were almost without exception all broken by the invaders), only a few tribes signed any kind of agreement that ceded their land or rights. This is significant because from the standpoint of international law, the BC and Canadian governments have no legal authority over those First Nations, and their sovereign status and rights were never extinguished.
In 1763, the Native tribes who fought with the British against the French (thereby assuring Great Britain's victory) demanded that the British remove their forts from Native lands. As could be guessed, Britain balked at this, so Ottawa Chief Pontiac formed a Confederacy which then torched all of the forts. King George III, whose propensity for decadence and depravity is well known, somehow managed to sober up enough (by the time of the American Revolution he was too far gone) to issue the Royal Proclamation Act, which promised to protect unceded Native people and land from his Crown subjects in the Colonies. The Act has never been repealed, and the Canadian Constitution (ratified in 1982) upholds and reaffirms its validity.
A major row exists between those Native bands who are currently choosing to negotiate with the BC government through a Land Claims process, and those First Nations who refuse to recognize the jurisdiction of BC, and will only dialogue on a nation-to-nation level. The former are considered by the latter to be modern Uncle Toms, or Apples (red on the outside and white on the inside). Environmental groups have had to choose between sides, and predictably most mainstream groups have sided with the Treaty process bands. I for one, along with groups such as Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty (S.I.S.I.S, which runs an excellent web site on the indigenous sovereignty struggle in Canada) and FAN, strongly believe that the process is a complete scam, and will only end with the participating bands in an even worse position than they were before. One reason is that the entire history of Western governments engaging in treaties with indigenous peoples ends up with those peoples losing. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, one of the great corporate swindles of modern times, is a perfect and recent example.
Another example is the situation on BCs central coast with regard to the neighbouring Heltsuk and Nuxalk bands. The Heltsuk have entered the treaty process. While the process crawls on, the band cannot protest against resource extraction and development. Consequently, they may have to wait for many years for an agreement to be reached (if ever; a different political party can come into office and cancel the whole thing, which is a likely scenario), during which time their land will have been stripped of trees, fished out, developed, and otherwise wiped out. In contrast, the Nuxalk are a strong sovereigntist nation who refuse to go along with the treaty sham, and are opposing industrial forestry with the support of FAN. Their future, by contrast with the Heltsuk, is vibrant. The historical situation involving the Royal Proclamation Act explains why some BC First Nations are currently trying to communicate with Liz Windsor about their situation. The British Crown has played a major role in the assimilation of Native tribes, yet currently refuses to recognize or take responsibility for this. Joyce Green contends that:
The Crown's military and police presence indicated coercion, while the language used was honeyed with symbolic representations of peace, mutuality, security and well-being for all time... assurances of continued Aboriginal autonomy were made, together with promises of material gifts.
The Queen, who never actually participated in treaty-making, was represented by her commissioners as a deified parent; aware of and desirous of the best interests of Indians; munificent, all-knowing and trustworthy.
The language shows how this image was manufactured: your Great Mother, the Queen... her hand is also open to reward the good man everywhere in her Dominions; your great mother wishes the good of all races... wishes her red children to be happy... to live in comfort... adopt the habits of the whites... She thinks this would be the best thing for her red children... But the Queen... has no idea of compelling you to do so... Your Great Mother... will lay aside for you lots of land to be used by you and your children forever... as long as the sun shall shine, there shall be no Indian who has not a place that he can call his home, where he can go and pitch his camp...
A common assumption is that things are getting better for the Indians, and that the government doesn't exercise the same nastiness as it used to. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The Coolican Report suggests that Canada's efforts to extinguish First Nations' rights and historical claims have not only not decreased in recent years, but have actually increased. Events at Oka, Ipperwash, and Gustafson Lake (check out the S.I.S.I.S web site for detailed info) confirm this.
Another example is the story of the Gitskan and Wet'suwet'en peoples' law suit against the provincial government of BC over the issue of indigenous sovereignty. The case was loaded from the start: the judge, Chief Justice McEachern of the B.C. Supreme Court, was formerly employed by Russell & Dumoulin, a major corporate law firm with some of the worst resource extraction corporations as clients; the Crown attorney was a former partner at Russell & Dumoulin; and some of the Native bands' own solicitors were from Russell & Dumoulin! There is more evidence to support the conclusion of a conspiracy. Justice McEachern ruled against the rights of First Nations people, claiming that their lives before contact with Europeans were nasty, brutish and short (quoting the European philosopher Hobbes) and had no redeeming features.
In the spring of 1994, FAN organized a blockade against the multinational timber monster Interfor, in solidarity with the sovereigntist LilWat people. Their ancient burial grounds and petroglyphs were being dynamited to build a logging road, and their forests were being clearcut, destroying the salmon habitat. Salmon is the lifeblood of the people and the land. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed up and handed us a court injunction banning us from the area; guess which law firm was displayed at the top of the document (which had been photocopied from a fax), and had won the injunction for Interfor? Russell & Dumoulin. The injunction had been reissued from a blockade a few years earlier, at which time Thatcherite Kim Campbell was the Canadian Prime Minister. Which law firm did she work for before entering Tory politics? You guessed it. The conspiratorial web among the governmental, judicial, and corporate worlds is truly stunning. Yet the struggle continues against the forces of destruction, as it does around the world.
If you want to write a letter (it won't save the planet, but it will let B.C. know the world is watching), send Premier Glen Clarke an epistle at Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C., Canada, V8V 1X4, Canada.
Forest Action Network (FAN)
Bella Coola BC
Tel: + 1 (604) 799 5800
FAN UK (think globally, act locally)
42-46 Bethel St
Tel: 01603 611953
Fax: 01603 666879
Coast Mountains EF!
1472 Commercial Drive
BC V5L 3X9
Tel: +1 (604) 708-9660
Friends of Clayoquot Sound
Tel: +1 (604) 725-4218
1850 Commercial Drive
Tel: +1 (604) 730 6081
Web: http://www.helix.net/~bearwtch [ No longer there at 22/7/02 - we're looking into it. ]
P.A.T.H. (Peoples' Action for Threatened Habitat)
Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty (S.I.S.I.S)
Contacts for First Nations can be found through S.I.S.I.S.