Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardian Gisele Martin shares a moment with an old growth tree. (Submitted photo)

Vancouver Island Indigenous leaders supportive of B.C.’s new plan for old forest preservation

More than 260,000 hectares in Clayoquot Sound mapped for immediate old growth harvesting deferral

On Sept. 11, the provincial government released a holistic plan to preserve about 353,000 hectares of old-growth forests in British Columbia, including more than 260,000 hectares in Clayoquot Sound.

Initial actions from the Province include immediately deferring old forest harvesting in nine areas throughout B.C. as well as engaging the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review the report.

Ahousaht hereditary representative and Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society (MHSS) senior advisor Tyson Atleo said they are appreciative of the commitment from the Province.

“What this temporary deferral does for the Ahousaht is it establishes a kind of state that allows Ahousaht to work directly with B.C. for changes to forest management in our territories,” said Atleo.

“B.C. has made very positive commitments to the Ahousaht, recognizing the Ahousaht as title holders and have committed to co-designing a process that will allow Ahousaht to work with B.C. to advance some of our economic interests in the forestry sector, which includes some protection of old-growth, but also advancing Ahousaht interests around second growth harvest opportunities to ensure that we can continue to provide economic opportunity for our people in forestry,” he said.

READ: Ahousaht First Nation sees sustainable development as top priority

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations deputy chief Terry Dorward said his Nation is optimistic about working with the Provincial and Federal government to reform logging practices that have “devastated our traditional territories”.

“This announcement is a step in the right direction to stop the cutting of old growth, which is getting more and more difficult for our people to practice our culture. It’s getting harder and harder to find western red cedar. It feels like we’ve won this battle, but the War of the Woods seems to continue throughout the generations here. We are doing our best to do what our ancestors did,” said Dorward.

Friends of Clayoquot Sound co-founder Michael Mullin echoed his sentiment.

“For the first time in history, the B.C. Government announced the deferral of logging in Clayoquot Sound for the next two years, which is great and long overdue,” said Mullin in a press release.

READ: Tla-o-qui-aht and Tofino celebrate 35th anniversary of the Meares Island Tribal Park Declaration

Gisele Martin, a Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Guardian and Nuu-chah-nulth language activist, says in Indigenous culture, the forest is considered an ancestral garden.

“The water, the air, the land, the spirit of this place is the source of our life force and where our culture comes from. Whatever we can do to protect the territory, directly protects ourselves and our identity as an Indigenous Nation. Through the work with the Land Vision that I’ve been involved with, I see that the majority of Nation wants to protect the forest and that isn’t something new as in n-e-w, it might be ‘nuu’ as in n-u-u Nuu-chah-nulth, which is very, very old,” Martin said.

There are many names for trees in Nuu-chah-nulth language, notes Martin, but the most generic one she could offer is ‘Su-chas’, meaning ‘land holder’.

“Every part of the forest here has names just like there are names for different districts of a city today,” she explained. “Every part of the forest has a forest guardian associated with it and these forest guardians took care of the forest in different ways. We did not as Nuu-chah-nulth, go randomly into the forest and cut down trees when we needed wood for a canoe or totem poles or for longhouse. We had a lot of laws,” she said, adding that they were taught to never cut down a tree close to an eagle’s nest or disturb areas where there is a wolf or bear den.

READ: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation says more resources needed to keep Tribal Parks open during pandemic

The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust offered congratulations to Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht Nations.

“We’re grateful to Nuu-chah-nulth for their leadership and stewardship of these lands. It’s exciting to witness the significant step towards the implementation of the Ahousaht hahoulthlee Land Use Vision and the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Vision. We’re looking forward to discussing what this temporary deferral means for the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere zonation with the Board members later this month,” reads a statement from the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust.

Ma-Mook Natural Resources Ltd. owns the Tree Farm Licence (TFL) for area 54 and 57 located in Clayoquot Sound.

In the Sept. 30 edition of the Westerly, we will take a look how the old growth deferral announcement impacts the future of Ma-Mook, which is a partnership of the Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Toquaht and Ucluelet First Nations.

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READ: B.C. suspends some old-growth logging, consults communities

READ: Vancouver Island protesters call B.C.’s response to new old-growth report a ‘diversion’

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