Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


First Nations, environmental activists unite against Victoria

April 4, 2003

First Nations will join eco-groups in a campaign against B.C. wood products

Northwest First Nations say they are forging an alliance with environmental activists in a renewed campaign against B.C. wood products as part of a strategy to fight Victoria’s forest policy changes.

Pledging there will be no certainty in the forest industry until aboriginal issues are dealt with more openly and fairly than Forests Minister Mike de Jong has done to date, representatives of 60 First Nations said they rejected Victoria’s new forest policies.

Further, they described the timber they have been offered by Victoria as “scraps.”

The anger and frustration with Victoria surfaced at a strategy meeting of the Northwest Tribal Treaty Nations held Wednesday in Prince George. The nations represent aboriginal people in the northwest quarter of the province from Prince George to the Queen Charlotte Islands.

The legislative changes, said co-chair Justa Monk, infringe on First Nations title and rights and fly in the face of recent court decisions requiring consultation and accommodation.

“We weren’t consulted beforehand. Now they want to have consultations after the fact. Well it doesn’t work that way,” Monk said.

He described the 3.3 million cubic metres of timber de Jong has set aside for First Nations forestry as “scraps.”

Once the timber is apportioned among the province’s 198 First Nations, the 3.3 million cubic metres — less than half the harvest of Canfor Corp. — will not be enough to build successful native-run operations, he said.

Besides joining forces with eco-groups, the northwest First Nations say they intend to legally challenge the constitutionality of timber tenures and forestry legislation, assert authority over their territories and exercise their aboriginal title and rights.

That means they intend to log for their own purposes, such as lumber for home construction, regardless of Victoria, the meeting was told.

“A key outcome from today’s meeting was a strong affirmation that northwest and interior First Nations will stand united, with each other, and with the environmental community,” said Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief Mavis Erickson. “We will stand together in exercising our ownership of the trees in our homelands.”

The strong rejection of the government’s forest policy initiative comes as no surprise — First Nations delivered a strong warning in March to de Jong to delay the policy package until he consulted with them.

But the decision to join forces with eco-groups in taking their grievances with Victoria to the marketplace is a new twist. On Wednesday, environmentalists announced they were giving Victoria six months to demonstrate it is identifying and protecting endangered species or they would re-start their marketing campaign against wood products.

Jessica Clogg, of West Coast Environmental Law, said it is no coincidence that First Nations announced their strategy one day later.

“It is the next step in a series of alliance-building,” she said.

The key issue besides the lack of prior consultation that is concerning First Nations is a government policy that removes Victoria’s oversight in the sale of forest tenures. First Nations say that provision allows Victoria to bypass court-ordered consultation over any tenure changes.

Ed John, grand chief of the First Nations Summit, said the legislative changes are directed at bringing certainty to forest companies, investors and customers of B.C. forest products.

“But certainty for First Nations is more clouded now than it has ever been.”

He described the Liberal government’s policy changes as “a package that was pre-determined and pre-designed. It was put out there hoping First Nations would take it just as it is.”

That is not going to happen, he said.