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Forests and Colonialism

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.

The following is an opinion piece I posted on the Cortes Island community website explaining my objections to a ‘BC Parks’ based solution to the forest-use dispute on the island, and some words on the colonial occupation of these territories.

First I must clarify that my words and opinions are my own and do not represent any other individuals or groups on this island or beyond.

I am firmly committed to the resistance to Island Timberlands operations on this island and beyond, and stand with residents of this island in their desire for sustainable eco-forestry and local value-added industry.

I wish to speak first about the solution proposed by Ken Wu and the Ancient Forest Alliance.
The AFA’s proposal for a Park Acquisition Fund is not an idea that I am currently willing to support.

I would like to acknowledge that Cortes Island is the traditional territory of the Klahoose, Homalco, Sliammon, We Wei Kai and Kwiakah peoples. The island is home to the Klahoose First Nation, whose community is pretty much right across the street from the blockade.

There exists no treaties for this island (like most of B.C.) and the land has not been ceded to B.C. or Canada in any way, beyond communities being forced onto reservations and made to submit to the Indian Act.

I do not speak for, nor honestly have any contact with anyone from any of those indigenous communities. But I do have an understanding of how the dominant culture ‘acquired’ the land, and of how this acquisition is in violation of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the laws that govern settlement in the ‘New World’. I am also aware of several Supreme Court decisions that have upheld aboriginal title and have clarified further that these lands remain unceded.

I am a non-indigenous person and I make no assumptions about how anyone in Klahoose or beyond feel about the issue.

What I am saying is that based on my own understanding, beliefs and politics, I do not seek or support solutions that put land into the hands of the B.C. government, who aside from being not competent to protect it, have not made an honest effort to acquire authority in a legal or ethical way, nor are they engaging the the treaty process with any real fairness.

Aside from this perspective of colonial land title, I support the idea of these forests being in the hands of the island community (indigenous and non-indigenous together) and zoned for eco-forestry and/or other traditional uses, not a park. Short of that, I would rather see Island Timberlands log it according to eco-forestry principles agreed upon by the local community before I would see it made into a park. I am not inclined to believe Island Timberlands is capable of that either, and am even less inclined to want to see them paid for these lands, so they can use those funds to ravage other communities. As far as I am concerned, I.T. needs to change the way it relates to the the land, or it needs to cease operations. I am not in favour of any solution that empowers them to continue operating as they have, and a $40 million cash injection would surely qualify as that kind of empowerment.

I acknowledge that as a visitor to this territory that I have no permission to either be protesting on these lands or to be proposing uses for it without knowledge of what the true title holders want. But I know in my heart that clear-cutting by Island Timberlands is the worst possible fate for the land, and am willing to take the risk to defend against this destruction.

I have been in the forest defense movement long enough to know how Island Timberlands operates, and that through hiring they pit neighbour against neighbour (among other dirty tactics crafted over years of facing opposition.) They have brought great damage upon watersheds and eco-systems, and the province of B.C. has turned a blind eye to this damage, as it tends to do with big industry. I would prefer neither of these entities have anything to do with managing forests and landscapes. I am working towards a future where we work together as residents of a place to settle our differences, chart the course for our future and manage our landscapes, and such a future is closer than you would imagine. We just need to stand our ground, and work with integrity to build connections and justice.

I reserve the right to criticize without offering solutions and I reserve the right to hint towards outcomes that many would find ‘unreasonable.’ We can’t begin to know what the solutions are until we take a step back and really understand where it is we are standing. I acknowledge I have much to learn myself.

I think that any solution here needs to take into account the elephant in the room that is the colonial occupation of these territories. I am not so arrogant as to believe I can propose a solution to one of our societies most complex and sensitive issues, but I do know when actions and solutions fail to acknowledge this reality, and the discourse that these forests belong to the people of ‘BC’ is not productive to the future that we should be moving towards.

My position on aboriginal title is not an attempt to speak for the Klahoose or anyone else, but to acknowledge the history, laws and behaviour of my own government and society. If we are going to be talking about land, and of ‘British Columbia’, I feel it helpful that we shed light on aspects of this issue that are generally swept under the rug. Colonization is just but one of those issues.

I urge you to do some research yourself into the ‘land question’ in this province.

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