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Pacheedaht Nation asks again for protesters to leave Fairy Creek, citing wildfire risk

Pacheedaht First Nation issued a call Monday for protesters to leave the Fairy Creek area, explicitly citing the risk of forest fires as a heatwave baked Vancouver Island.
Entrance to one of the blockades in the Fairy Creek watershed. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Pacheedaht First Nation issued a call Monday for protesters to leave the Fairy Creek area, explicitly citing the risk of forest fires as a heatwave baked Vancouver Island.

Protesters were told to leave and immediately cease lighting campfires, which the protest camps have used to cook food, boil water and have a sacred fire burning.

The request was “made in the context of the constitutional right of First Nations to decide what is best for our lands, our waters and our resources, the sustainment and well-being of present and future generations,” the statement read.

Despite a two-year deferral on all old-growth logging, accepted by logging company Teal-Jones Group and the B.C. government on June 7 at the request of the tripartite request of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, protesters have remained at the blockade sites saying the deferrals are not comprehensive enough.

Arrest numbers tell the story of their unwillingness to leave: almost half (157) of the total arrests (344) have occurred since the deferral agreement was reached on June 7.

The first blockade was established last August by protesters now loosely organized as the Rainforest Flying Squad. They have been physically preventing logging activity in the Fairy Creek watershed area ever since, violating an injunction Teal-Jones on April 1.

RELATED: Vancouver Island First Nations declaration not enough for old-growth protesters

When the three Nations asked for a deferral on old-growth logging and were granted it, Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones said in a statement through the Rainforest Flying Squad that First Nations were “locked into unfair contracts that tie their hands” and that the forest protectors “must not stand down.”

At least one of the contracts he referred to is the Forest and Range Consultation and Revenue Sharing Agreement that Pacheedaht signed in 2017. The contract defines the consultation required for every possible forest activity and establishes revenue sharing. Pacheedaht is entitled to three per cent of the government’s total revenue from forestry activity on Pacheedaht traditional territory, or $35,000, whichever is more.

But there’s a catch.

The nation is prohibited from protesting or supporting protest of any legal logging. Doing so could see payment withheld. It’s also required to cooperate with the province to “resolve any action” taken by Pacheedaht members that interfere with the contract.

RELATED: Elder group heading to Victoria court to protest RCMP exclusion zones at Fairy Creek

That agreement is one lens through which to read Pacheedaht elected Chief Jeff Jones’ response. Another is, as he said in the statement, that of concern for human-caused wildfires and the safety of the protesters.

“With old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed now deferred for two years, an Integrated Resource Management Planning process underway and with the increased risk of forest fires due to high temperatures, there is no reason for the protesters to continue to occupy our traditional territory,” Jones wrote in the statement.

“We respectfully reiterate our request for protesters to leave our traditional territory and let our Nation get on with the business of deciding how best to manage our ḥahahuułi (traditional territory).”

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