The Huu-ay-aht First Nations is seeking leave to intervene in the Fairy Creek court appeal, following last month’s decision to temporarily extend an injunction against old growth logging blockades on southern Vancouver Island.
In a news release, the Huu-ay-aht, whose lands are located on the Island’s west coast, say they are not directly implicated in the Fairy Creek protests or seeking to support any particular side.
However, it says it does want to ensure the court is aware of the concerns of B.C. First Nations when it comes to “decision-making authority” over forests within its Indigenous territories.
“I feel there’s a serious threat on Huu-ay-aht Aboriginal rights and treaty rights,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Coun. Robert Dennis Sr.
“We want to be the ones to decide what old growth can be taken or what old growth can’t be taken. That’s our decision” he said, adding he doesn’t want the province to decide on deferrals until the Huu-ay-aht First Nation completes its integrated resource management plan.
The Fairy Creek watershed, located on Pacheedaht First Nation territory, northeast of Port Renfrew, has been the site of demonstrations dating back to the summer of 2020. It is now considered one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
Last spring, lumber company Teal Jones, who has a licence to log old growth forest, sought an injunction against the protesters blockading their land, which the court granted.
In September, the company asked for an extension, which was initially denied by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson who found police enforcement methods had led to “serious and substantial infringements” of protester’s civil liberties.
Weeks later, however, it was temporarily reinstated on appeal.
B.C. Premier John Horgan, whose government has grappled with criticism over its response to both the protesters and old growth logging, says the courts have enshrined Aboriginal rights and title and that it’s up to the Pacheedaht to decide on logging operations.
“If I had to put a hierarchy of the things that keep me awake at night, this is absolutely one of them,” said Horgan in an interview with CBC.
“I grew up here. I know these forests … So it’s not a it’s not disinterest or dismissiveness. It’s an anxiety about making sure we get this right.”
On numerous occasions, the Huu-ay-aht, the Ditidaht and the Pacheedaht have asked outside activists to stand down and leave the Indigenous communities to decide for themselves how to use local forestry resources.
In June, the nation asked for a two-year deferral on old-growth logging across about 2,000 hectares of the Fairy Creek and central Walbran areas, which the province granted.
At the time, the chiefs of the three First Nations issued a joint statement asking the public to recognize their right to allow approved Indigenous operations to “continue without interruption” and “respect their constitutionally protected right to benefit economically from our lands, waters, and resources.”
Following the deferral, a protest group dubbed the Rainforest Flying Squad said it would not be leaving the area, as logging could still happen in old-growth areas next to Fairy Creek and parts of central Walbran not included in the deferral.