The area known as Ada’itsx, better known as Fairy Creek, is located near the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, about a two-hour drive from Victoria. Originally composed of the watershed of the creek of the same name, the area has come to encompass a collection of pristine forests in the region. The originally defended watershed is in Pacheedaht territory, but the area now touches a larger forest complex, including Ditidaht territory [1]

These ancient forests are virgin, and thus have never been cut down. They are made up of very old trees, the oldest of which could be more than two thousand years old and three meters in diameter. These forests are mostly made up of Nootka Cypress [2], a tree that can reach 40 meters in height. These ancient trees form a unique layered ecosystem, with different plants and animals living in the different heights of the forest.

These forests are an essential part of the Pacheedaht culture, which relies on the large cedars to make traditional sea-going canoes [4]. Yet the majority of the Pacheedaht people do not support the blockades initiated by the white settlers. What is happening?


The Pacheedaht People

The Pacheedaht people’s reserve, near the town of Port Renfrew, currently consists of approximately 290 people. Like many Indigenous peoples, the Pacheedaht have suffered greatly from the colonial policies of the Canadian government.

Their traditional food source, whales, is no longer available to them [5]. For decades, the Pacheedaht have seen the forests around their reserve cut down and sent away, without compensation. In order to facilitate the transportation of the cut giant trees, the Vancouver Island shoreline in their area was dredged, destroying the refuges used by young salmon to feed. Their situation is not to be envied!

However, the Pacheedaht are slowly regaining control of their territory. They are working to rebuild the riverbanks that were destroyed during decades of logging. The salmon are beginning to return and give hope that there will be more fishing in the future.

Since almost a decade, the Pacheedaht have also won against the logging industry and are now receiving royalties from logging on their land. The Pacheedaht have also built a small sawmill, providing some employment on the reserve, and a space for traditional sea canoe making.

The Pacheedaht are trying to ensure that they have a forestry operation that will allow them to maintain their traditions, considering that it takes about 400 years for a cedar tree to grow to a size where it can be used to make a canoe.


Protecting the rainforests

British Columbia’s non-native activist community has a long history of protecting virgin forests. Multiple actions against clearcutting in old growth forests during the 1980s culminated in the summer of 1993 with the “War of the Woods”, a massive blockade in Clayoquot Sound. Clayoquot Sound is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, north of Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek). These actions led to over 800 arrests, the largest civil disobedience movement in Canada at the time. This sad record has been broken by the current Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) blockades [6].

The need to permanently protect the rainforests pushed many former Clayoquot activists into political action. These former activists turned to lobbying to force governments to protect the region’s forests. And at first sight, it looks like this approach worked, and new laws to protect the forests have been enacted.

The problem is that these laws have not had any concrete effect. In the 1990s, during the Clayoquot struggles, 30% of Vancouver Island was covered by forest. Today, the coverage is only 20% [7]. And the proportion of forest with the oldest trees, such as those found in Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek), is estimated to be between 1% and 3% of the island’s surface. The current NDP provincial government, supposedly of the left, is being blamed for its horrible environmental record [8].


Ada’itsx’s (Fairy Creek) blockade

As its name suggests, the area called Fairy Creek is absolutely magical. Not far from Victoria, it is a popular spot for tourists from the region and beyond. When word got out that the old growth forest in the area was going to be cut down, the news quickly went viral on social media. The logging was to be done by the Teal Jones Group, a private company based in British Columbia.

As a result, a group of non-natives met in Port Renfrew to discuss what to do. After discussion, the group decided that urgency should dictate their actions: they would block the road, even though they had not yet discussed it with the Pacheedaht people.

So the blockade was initially a settler affair. Things have changed, however: the blockade has now been going on for over a year, and since then several indigenous people have joined the camps. The majority of the Pacheedaht people still do not support the blockades, but some community members have joined them. The Indigenous people who joined the blockades have been setting the record straight and trying to form links with the Indigenous communities in the area to repair some of the damage.


Between A Rock and a Hard Place

The region is certainly worth protecting, but it must be understood that this protection comes at a cost to the local people. The actions of the Canadian colonial government have already taken away the whales and the salmon from the Pacheedaht, should the forest be taken away as well?

So the situation is not ideal, but are there perfect situations? The struggle for Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) has exposed the lies and hypocrisy of governments. The supposedly left- wing provincial NDP government recently claimed to have protected 353,000 hectares of forest, but a quick analysis showed that

  1. Much of this space had already been protected for many years,
  2. Another portion had already been completely cut down.

The struggle is also shaping a whole generation ready to fight for what they believe in, and they are gradually learning to do so in a way that respects the indigenous people. Very strong bonds are formed between non-indigenous and indigenous people, which will be precious in the coming struggles.

The struggle has also humiliated the “all-powerful” RCMP, forcing a judge to drop the injunctions against the activists [9], following multiple abuses by the police [10]. The inability of the police to stop the blockades despite a massive deployment demonstrates the limits of the police apparatus in the face of an organized mass struggle.

To paraphrase Madeleine Parent, a Quebec union activist: Each struggle teaches the activist how to fight. Nothing is ever completely lost.


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