Let’s pause for a moment of gratitude. June 26 will be a kind of armistice day — the old growth battlegrounds of the “War in the Woods” in Clayoquot Sound will receive permanent protection

The Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations have landed an agreement with the province of B.C. to protect about 760 square kilometres of the world’s most stupendous ancient forest and other unique biomes, creating 10 new conservancies to protect the old growth. In the process, the nations forced a local revamp of B.C.’s heinous “Tree Farm Licence” system — the “TFLs” that reign across the province’s “crown lands,” effectively privatizing the living world into corporate satrapies.

The armistice has been a long time coming. The Tla-o-qui-aht Nation declared Meares Island a tribal park in the early 1980s — long before such inconveniences were taken seriously by provincial governments or Ottawa. If you’ve ever visited Tofino, Meares is the towering emerald island that fills your view from the harbour, a logging scar on Lone Cone mountain gradually healing, the only visible sign of its turbulent past. The province blithely granted logging companies cutting rights to 90 per cent of it.

Clayoquot house
Carl and Joe Martin, nephews of Chief Moses Martin at a protector cabin built for blockaders. Photo by Leigh Hilbert.

When the loggers arrived by boat in November 1984, they were met by the country’s first logging blockade. Just shy of one hundred blockaders — First Nations and assorted allies from the nascent Friends of Clayoquot Sound. Moses Martin, then elected chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht, greeted the loggers, inviting them to shore for a meal. “You’re welcome to visit our park. But leave your saws in the boat.”

“This is not a tree farm,” Chief Martin told the bewildered crew. “This is Wah-nah-jus Hilth-hoo-iss. This is our garden, this is a tribal park.”

The logging crew declined breakfast. The blockade continued for months. Judges fired off injunctions (court orders against Moses Martin “and anyone else”). Local tempers flared. And then, to the government’s shock and dismay, the courts issued a historic decision in 1985, siding with the Tla-o-qui-aht. You’ll have to forgive Justice Peter Seaton’s language but it bears repeating:

A moment of celebration for #Clayoquot, a tract of pristine old growth saved. #OldGrowth #forests #BCpoli

“The Indians have pressed their land claims in various ways for generations. The claims have not been dealt with and found invalid. They have not been dealt with at all,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, the logger continues his steady march, and the Indians see themselves retreating into a smaller and smaller area.”

That injunction technically remains in place to this day. And Meares Island was the first salvo. Blockaders rallied to defend other forests in Clayoquot Sound and across the country: Haida Gwaii, Temagami, Grassy Narrows, the lineage continues to Fairy Creek.

Fast forward to 1993 and blockades had expanded to defend all intact areas of Clayoquot Sound and over 800 people were arrested, including this newsletter scribbler and my late father (if you squint just right at those 1993 photos, you’ll see my old van, typically topped by a fierce Tzeporah Berman brandishing a bullhorn — the woman who would later marry me on a summer solstice, at a remote beach on Vargas Island followed by a feast of Joe Martin-fire-smoked salmon).

You shouldn’t take away an overly-sentimental picture of First Nations and greenies working in harmony. We, non-Indigenous tree-huggers, made dreadful mistakes both in protocol and in practice. In retrospect, it’s amazing some of them were not irreparable. Yet, despite the bungling, the symbiosis seems to have worked. Fast forward to today, and the Ahousaht Hawiih (hereditary chiefs) “celebrate this decision alongside partners and people around the world as a significant win for climate, biodiversity, reconciliation.”

And it's another generation of the Martin family standing up. “British Columbia is now beginning to help us protect the forest from BC/from itself!” Gisele Martin celebrated.

Gisele Martin and her father Joe Martin in 2023
Gisele Martin and her father Joe Martin in 2023. Photo from Gisele Martin/Facebook.

“After GENERATIONS of work from many Nuučaanuł / Nuu-chah-nulth families and individuals, some illicit colonial land designations are being reformed to better respect our Indigenous land visions and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks declarations.”

“ƛeekoo ƛeekoo to all our grandparents and leadership who worked towards upholding our existence.”

“Hold your governments accountable,” Martin urges. “The work is ongoing.”

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Well, jolly good. First positive thing I've seen from the BC NDP on that policy area.