Horgan’s old-growth logging rhetoric exposes his colonial ignorance

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Colonialism is very much alive and well in so-called Canada

road to fairy creek blockade forests
Photo by Michael John Lo.

On June 1st, during an announcement on forestry policy, B.C.’s Premier John Horgan said, “it’s absolutely vital that we do not repeat the colonial activities of the past by dictating to First Nations what they do on their territories today.” At face value this doesn’t sound so bad, but for anyone who has been paying attention to the recent happenings in Fairy Creek and the surrounding blockades, it reeks of disingenuousness. It’s so ironic that it’s almost laughable, except it isn’t funny —it’s horrifying. 

Horgan’s statement was made about a week before the recent old-growth logging deferrals were announced. The deferrals were requested by The Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, whose traditional territory the logging and protests have been taking place on. For two years, the Nations requested that old-growth logging be deferred in the Fairy Creek watershed and the Central Walbran area while they further develop resource management and stewardship plans. Their request was accepted by Horgan in June, which created the illusion of a tidy resolution to the longstanding conflict in Fairy Creek. 

But, alas, underneath this flimsy facade lurks colonialism and environmental destruction is alive and well. Horgan has been disingenuous about his government’s commitment to the reconciliation process, and to protecting old-growth forests. Instead, he continues to uphold the harmful practices of the status quo.

Fairy Creek has been a ubiquitous part of local news over the last few months, and recently it’s even garnered national and international attention, with articles in Reuters, Al Jazeera, and Vogue. Blockades began in the area last August to protect Fairy Creek, which is exactly the kind of highly diverse and productive ecosystem that the government’s Old Growth Strategic Review says is critical to protect. The movement quickly grew, calling for a cessation of all old-growth logging in BC. In May, the RCMP began enforcing a court ordered injunction in the area, and since then tensions and stakes have been even higher at the blockades. At the time of writing this, at least 300 people have been arrested. Now, the recent deferrals have added another layer of complexity to the ever unfolding issue.

Last month, a team of independent scientists at Veridian Ecological Consulting stated “deferrals are a means to an end. But they are not the end goal!” Deferrals may well be a positive first step, but as environmental organizations such as the Wilderness Committee and the Ancient Forest Alliance have noted, the approximately 2000 hectares of forest included is a far cry from what is needed. Logging of old-growth trees will continue nearby and throughout the province — destroying ancient trees and the ecosystems they’re a part of in the process. Their loss, and the environmental and cultural implications, are irreversible.

So, protests and blockades will continue. And as they do, it’s essential to remember that ecocide and Indigenous genocide have always gone hand-in-hand under settler colonialism in so-called Canada. 

Although Horgan has claimed he doesn’t intend to dictate what Indigenous nations can and cannot do, his government has done exactly that. They worked alongside the Pacheedaht band council to draft and circulate a letter requesting that the protestors leave. This letter was widely circulated as evidence that the blockades do not have Indigenous approval, even though Indigenous land defenders have been on the front lines for months. 

But politics aside, the most clear iteration of settler colonialism at Fairy Creek is the enforcement of the injunction. The RCMP have a history of violence against Indigenous peoples, and we are seeing that same violence played out everyday in Fairy Creek. The RCMP’s tactics have grown increasingly aggressive, including the widely criticized illegal exclusion zones and suppression of the media, and recent reports from blockaders of scare tactics and violent threats. In a disturbing video from last month, Indigenous land defender Kati George-Jim is violently arrested while acting as a legal observer. It is difficult to watch this video without being reminded of the ugly history of the RCMP. The RCMP was created in order to control Indigenous peoples, and, as an institution, has repeatedly demonstrated little concern for Indigenous life. George-Jim’s violent arrest was not an isolated incident either – there have been many reports of RCMP violence, particularly against Indigenous land defenders. If these tactics being used at the blockades do not qualify as “colonial activities,” then nothing does.

Before the deferral requests, Horgan and mainstream media outlets had both called attention to the fact that the Pacheedaht elected chief Jeff Jones was not in favour of the blockades. There was also a lot of talk about “division” amongst the Pacheedaht Nation on the issue. First of all, it is a mistake to assume any group is or should be homogenous in their opinions. Second of all, statements such as this ignore the complexity of First Nations governance and the ongoing entanglement with colonial governments. The Horgan government is entangled with the band councils. There cannot be Indigenous sovereignty in Fairy Creek as long as this is the case. 

Meanwhile, Horgan has not only ignored Indigenous people who have been on the front lines of the protests and blockades, but he has also stated that the protests themselves are colonial. As with the Wet’suwet’en actions last year, Horgan is only interested in listening to band councils that have industry interests. It seems that other forms of Indigenous leadership and Indigneous land defenders are nothing but annoyances to him.

Instead of having a genuine concern for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, Horgan appears to be throwing around these concepts by means of distraction when it benefits him, and without acknowledgment of the government’s control over the self-determination of First Nations. Colonialism has cornered the Pacheedaht and other First Nations into a Faustian bargain: destructive resource extraction in exchange for minimal short-term gains, or poverty. This is not sovereignty. 

As protests continue for the protection of the remaining old-growth forests, it is absolutely vital that we listen to Indigenous land defenders. White activists must remember that they cannot address environmental destruction without also addressing Indigenous oppression and colonialism, as they are inextricably linked. 

We must name “colonial activities” when they happen, acknowledge that they are happening in the present, condemn them and the governments that perpetuate them.