ENVIRONMENT

The battle for an island forest

JANE O’HARA December 9 1985
ENVIRONMENT

The battle for an island forest

JANE O’HARA December 9 1985

The battle for an island forest

ENVIRONMENT

Haida tom-toms and seashell rattles sounded through the earlymorning darkness on Lyell Island in British Columbia’s South Moresby archipelago. On Nov. 25, 28 Haida Indians blockaded a remote logging road to stop loggers hired by Western Forest Products from cutting down trees on what the Haida say is their ancestral homeland. But the Haida acted in defiance of two B.C. Supreme Court injunctions—passed earlier last month—which ordered them not to interfere with the loggers, and RCMP officers quickly charged them with contempt. Since the blockade began on Oct. 30, 72 Haida have been charged, as well as NDP MP Svend Robinson, a Haida supporter. And last week in Prince Rupert 10 of them were convicted of contempt of court for disobeying the injunction. (Six others were acquitted, and Robinson’s hearing on the same charge was temporarily adjourned.)

The 10 convicted Haida could face up to six months each in jail if they do not agree to obey the injunction by this Friday. The arrests have renewed a long-simmering dispute over South Moresby. Said Ernest Collinson, a spokesman for the Council of the Haida Nation: “It’s distasteful that we have to be marked as criminals in order to make a point about our history.”

The Haida claim that the 110-km string of islands off the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands belongs to them. But Vancouver-based Western Forest Products, which owns the logging leases on the islands, plans to cut 20 per cent of the archipelago’s 60,000 acres during the next 45 years. Since 1974 the Haida have protested logging in the area, and in 1980 they launched a land claim with the federal government. In that, they are supported by environmentalists, including the Islands Protection Society (IPS), which is fighting to have the area declared a national park.

Because South Moresby is provincial Crown land, responsibility for resolving the issue lies with the British Columbia government. In June, 1984, the ministry of forests stopped approving any applications for new logging. On Oct. 18, Environment Minister Austin Pelton announced that he would form a committee to review the situation. But industry analysts say that a logging ban in the area would result in the loss of at least 1,000 logging and millworking jobs. That claim has been influential in government circles. Indeed, on Oct. 22 the ministry of forests approved new cutting rights for the company on Lyell Island.

The decision angered many members of both the IPS and the Haida, who

subsequently began blockading the roads. Meanwhile, the federal government has taken steps to help resolve the issue. In October federal Environment Minister Thomas McMillan toured the islands and said that he favored the preservation of parts of South Moresby as a national park. The minister also offered to buy out Western Forest Products’ logging leases in the area for $10 million. As well, Indian Affairs Minister David Crombie offered to arrange talks between provincial officials and Haida leaders.

B.C. Attorney General Brian Smith has rejected all offers of mediation because, he says, negotiations are impossible until the court cases have been dealt with. Indeed, he gave a clear signal of the provincial government’s position last month when he instructed Crown attorney John Giles to appear in court to support Western Forest Products’ lawyers in their civil contempt case against the Haida. But the Haida have indicated that they do not fear the charges and they vow to continue their protests. Declared Miles Richardson, president of the Council of the Haida Nation: “We will not be pushed aside in our own homelands and told that our interests are not worthy of consideration.”

—JANE O’HARA in Vancouver