PORT HARDY—A hundred-strong band of supporters took to the streets last week in a show of solidarity with First Nations protesters at a logging operation on Byng Road.
What began in January as a one-day protest by Kwakiutl members has expanded into a round-the-clock vigil which reached the 100-day mark on May 7.
Island Timberlands, contracting the logging operation, did not respond to requests for comment but previous reports have stated that the company views the site as private land.
The Kwakiutl disagree, citing the Douglas Treaty of 1851 and saying the land was never ceded and the band retains title. That treaty stipulated that lands and waters were to be set aside “for generations to follow” and for use “as formerly.”
A court decision last year upheld a separate 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 ruling has since been appealed by the province and band representatives have been critical of the lack of consultation in this case.
“The company that is there is Island Timberlands,” said Lands Manager Tom Child. “We’ve been saying to them, ‘You can’t be operating like this in our backyards without showing us some respect.’ We have Kwakiutl Title to that land; we have ten different ways of proving that we own that part of our territory.”
To mark the hundredth day of the protest a group, including chiefs and elders, gathered at the Big House in Tsaxis (Fort Rupert) before marching to the site of the protest.
“It has been said, you know, what we’re doing here is fighting for our children,” explained Calvin Hunt. “Over the years our forests are being depleted, and pretty soon there will be no big cedars to carve our canoes and our totem poles and our masks and our regalia and (no) people learning how to do work in cedar bark; this will all come to an end. If it was not for people like (Chief Coreen Child) heading this up we will have nothing left.”
In addition to the falling of the cedar at the site, the Kwakiutl have concerns over the preservation of culturally sensitive areas including traplines and collection sites for medicinal plants.
Of the protesters, Hunt and Chief Child recognized Lucille Brotchie and “our Ojibwe brother,” Dylan Thomas, for their commitment. Thomas has been a stalwart at the site, present for an estimated 90 days of the protest.
“My people signed treaty number one in 1871, which was 20 years after the Douglas Treaty,” he explained. “To this day we still have to fight the federal government to recognize what they agreed to in the treaty. My people have lived up to that treaty — we allowed peaceful settlements — but the government has not lived up to their side of the bargain. As First Nations people we have to assert the rights to this land that our people were here thousands of years before anyone else.”
“When we started (this protest) it was minus 16 weather — now we’re watching the flowers blossom and bloom,” said Chief Child. “We can’t let this go for another season.”