PORT HARDY—The Kwakiutl First Nation successfully used a one-day protest to interrupt a logging operation off Byng Road two weeks ago.
But when logging resumed on the disputed territory between Port Hardy and the Kwakiutl village of Tsaxis (Fort Rupert), the band stepped up its action.
Last week, the Kwakiutl set up a round-the-clock protest at one entrance to the worksite off Byng Road, demanding a meeting with officials from the province and from Island Timberlands, which has contracted the logging operation on what it sees as private land.
The Kwakiutl disagree, saying the land was never ceded and that the band retains title through the Douglas Treaty of 1851.
“The people decided on this action, and the chiefs and council supported their request,” band manager Norman Champagne said Monday, as the protest entered its seventh day. “It’s not a blockade, but it could move to that stage.”
Rotating groups of band members have taken shifts at the access road, at a site that includes a fire pit, folding camp chairs and banners strung between nearby trees. Other banners adorn vehicles that block access to the road.
“It takes the citizens of Fort Rupert to stand up and come out,” said Lucille Brotchie, and elder who was joined by Kodie Wilson, Patrick Johnny and Ernie Price at the site Thursday afternoon.
The quartet waved as passing motorists honked and returned waves of support, and vowed to maintain their occupation of the site until the government and logging company agree to a meeting.
The Kwakiutl maintain the land in question falls under a survey drafted as part of the Douglas treaty between the First Nation and the crown in the mid-19th century, before Canadian federation. The band maintains it has never extinguished its title rights since the signing of that treaty, and objects to the claim on the property by Island Timberland, which purchased the land under a private designation bestowed by the province in legislation approved in 2007-08, said Champagne.
“The Kwakiutl had unextinguished title to those lands,” he said. “It’s what I call a highly toxic accumulation of abuses of our rights under the treaty.”
Last year, a provincial court provided a mixed ruling to a lawsuit brought by the Kwakiutl against timber operations by Western Forest Products. On the one hand, it did not stop the harvest, but on the other it upheld the Kwakiutl claim under the Douglas Treaty and called on the province to consult with the band on any further private action on the unceded territories.
The province, however, has appealed the ruling, which Champagne admits makes it difficult for the band to force a meeting with government officials.
“At the core of it is implementation of the court ruling,” he said. “It’s so frustrating on our part. I’ve been out to the (protest) site myself. It’s exhausting, and it’s disappointing.”