Capital Daily

The Eventful First Anniversary of the Fairy Creek Blockades

Episode Summary

The blockades set up in and around Fairy Creek have officially been active for a year. Yesterday’s anniversary began with a morning RCMP raid at the camp headquarters and ended with speakers and live music in front of the BC Legislature. We look back on the year that was with the 17-year-old teenager from Washington that brought attention to Fairy Creek last summer.

Episode Notes

The blockades set up in and around Fairy Creek have officially been active for a year. Yesterday’s anniversary began with a morning RCMP raid at the camp headquarters and ended with speakers and live music in front of the BC Legislature. We look back on the year that was with the 17-year-old teenager from Washington that brought attention to Fairy Creek last summer.  

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Episode Transcription

Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Jackie: Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Tuesday, August 10. Welcome to the Capital Daily Podcast. Today on the show yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the first blockade in Fairy Creek. The past year has been one full of protests, arrests, massive public showings of support, and a fight that doesn't seem to have an end. Today, we reflect on the year that has been with the unlikely teenager who is at the start of the whole campaign.

Yesterday was an eventful day for supporters of the Fairy Creek blockades. It was the one-year anniversary. There was a massive event showing at the legislature that started with a march in the afternoon and ended in the evening that featured speakers from the blockade's Indigenous youth, scientists, Elizabeth May, and live music was international Indigenous peoples day. But those were the only things that made yesterday impactful for the movement. Yesterday at 8 AM, the RCMP began to raid the blockade headquarters.

This is after a year of over 520 arrests. According to the rain forest flying squad, and losing camps to the RCMP and later reclaiming them. Activists have chained themselves into the ground and harnessed themselves in the trees. Despite arrests, people of all backgrounds continue to show up and risk being arrested themselves for the movement. Here's an excerpt from yesterday's event. 

Rainbow Eyes (audio recording): Hi, I'm Rainbow Eyes. I'm a member of the Da'naxda'xw/Awaetlala First Nation, and I've been living at Fairy Creek today for three months. I wanted to talk a little bit about what happened this morning at HQ, where we were raided. So we woke up at eight o'clock. We've heard that there were officers at the front gates, and there were aggressive green men; the green men are like the next level up. These are the mean guys. I've been arrested three times, and I'm out on bail. They want to put fear in the system and put fear in us. 

When we cut out into the forest, we see that it's an illusion because we stepped out of the box we live in. We consume money, jobs, work and live for the weekend. We don't have any of that out there for us. None of that fear is gone, and that is what scares the system. That's what scares the government. The fact that we're learning and they feel it. They feel that in the RCMP and on the front lines every day. We're getting stronger because we're not listening to them. We don't listen to them. We don't need to listen to them because they're wrong. 

Jackie: You may also recognize this voice, Shawna Knight, who has been a major part of the movement since its early days as well. We spoke to her in our episode "Life at the Fairy Creek Blockades." 

Shawna Knight (audio recording): We didn't know what to expect two years ago when we showed up. We thought we were going to save the trees because we're going to see major forests. What ended up happening was we built one of the most caring, unified, harmonious communities that anyone has ever seen; that's what it is. I'm so proud of us and proud of everyone. I was surprised that we'd made it this far. I thought we would just get shut right down. But we're still here, and we're not going anywhere. 

Jackie: And Will O'Connell has been present at the camps since the beginning. He is also a frequent speaker at demonstrations. Here he is from yesterday afternoon.

Will O'Connell (audio recording): Well, a year ago, to the day, and it's just amazing to see what's happened since that day; it's so incredible. To see what's catalyzed around such a small group in the beginning, it's listed in a court case against me that I said this. This is a movement that won't be quelled by force. I said it before the arrests started, and I have no idea exactly how much we're going to resist, but I knew that this wasn't a resistance. This wasn't a movement that was going to be stifled with pure force. It's a movement that has to see change.  

Jackie: The movement that led to yesterday came together last summer, as forced defenders in BC became frustrated with the lack of direct action to save old growth. And they set their sights on fairy Creek. But Fairy Creek wasn't random. In fact, the story traces back to a 17-year-old teenager from Washington State to tell that story and analyze the eventful year that has come from its origin. We're joined by Joshua Wright. Joshua, thank you so much for joining the show.

Joshua: Thanks for having me. 

Jackie: Let's go back to the very beginning. It's been a full year now. How did this ball get rolling? What was the first thing that happened for you? 

Joshua: The first thing for me was I saw road-building into Fairy Creek, I'd seen approvals from the BC government's database, showing road approvals into Fairy Creek, and I saw the road building on satellite imagery. That was how I first got involved in this whole movement. Then I got in touch with a group of people in Canada who were off via some friends, and they were organizing a group of people that were frustrated by the lack of action in BC's old-growth. Government after government, whether it was the NDP or the Liberal government, they've been saying, "Oh, yeah, we're gonna protect old growth." They've been releasing reports and talking and talking and talking. They had finally decided, "Okay, we should start a blockade, or we should figure out a place to make that a reality." It was the perfect timing because I'd seen this road-building in Fairy Creek, which is an area that I've had my eye on for a few years. I got in touch with them, and a couple of days later, they went up to Fairy Creek and a few days after that, they sent me an email. It had a picture of them and a couple of dozen people holding "No roads into Fairy Creek" signs, and they started to blockade, and I didn't expect it to happen. Since then, it's just been ballooning into a movement to save all of these old-growth forests. There have been 520 arrests, and it's been getting bigger and bigger and bigger.  

Jackie: When you say you were looking at satellite imagery, you were kind of following this area. That's something that you were doing for lots of areas of British Columbia before?

Joshua: As a younger teenager, I grew up looking at our first time visiting Vancouver Island, and I'm looking at these old-growth forests and exploring them and falling in love with them, and then coming back the next year and seeing them cut down. And like we'd go to places like Edinburg mountain, the Glowing Dog, the Walbran Valley, and see these before and after of these areas. They're just some of the most spectacular ecosystems on Earth. Get clear cut one after another after another. And, of course, I lived down in the US. The only way I could stay engaged with these forests was over Google Earth. So I would keep track of the approvals, logging approvals across Vancouver Island. 

I remember the first time I saw Fairy Creek. I was looking for a big long dog on the map. I saw right near it, this little intact valley, and I never heard anybody else talk about it. It was off the radar for a really long time. I watched the satellite imagery, and about a year and a half ago, I'd seen these approvals go through and then last June, I saw the road building. I didn't know what to do, so I reached out to the Ancient Forest Lions. I would talk to everyone I met about it. And eventually, somebody had a friend up in Canada, who knew someone who was organizing a direct action campaign. And that turned out to be Carol Tuttle. So, we got in touch, and that's where the movement launched, in the latest chapter and movement that's been going on for probably 40 years. That's sort of where this whole thing began. 

Jackie: How has it been being involved from Washington? What do you do exactly? 

Joshua: So in the beginning, my job was to track down where Teal-Jones was actively cutting trees or actively road building using up to date like daily satellite imagery. I knew the area really well on the map, so I could see exactly where they had new approvals and what they were doing. And then I could contact the team on the ground, and they could go there, figure out what's going on and set up a blockade. The next morning, work crews would show up, and they'd get turned around. So that was my role over the fall, but into the winter. Once the injunction came out, I took on a social media, media campaigning, role in the movement. There are many more people on the ground making decisions because not about where the logging is happening. It's about where the RCMP are, and increasingly, over the past three months, that's been the biggest concern.

Jackie: How do you think things have gone when you look back over the year? 

Joshua: I didn't think that this group of activists when I got in touch with them; it was like a couple of dozen people. To be honest, I didn't think that I thought they were going to go up to Fairy Creek. I was surprised to see how quickly things happened. It's almost like jumping on board a freight train that's been going at 100 kilometres an hour ever since. As much as I could have ever hoped for, honestly, this is the biggest direct action movement in BC in 30 years, and it's on track to be the most significant direct action movement in Canadian history at this point. And it was underscoring the fact that it's abhorrent. These forests that are thousands of years old contain more carbon than any other ecosystem in the world. They are more biodiverse than any other ecosystem in the world. It is just anachronistic to clear-cut them, and I think everybody knows it. Something like 90% of British Columbians want to see our old-growth forests protected. And the fact that the government still hasn't protected old growth in a meaningful way is a shame. 

Jackie: The momentum actually seemed to pick up a lot during the time when the injunction was in the news a lot and then eventually passed. And then, when it began to be enforced, especially, what was it like during those few weeks of really heightened attention? 

Joshua: I remember at the beginning when we received word from the company that they were filing for an injunction; everybody at camp was like, "We knew this was coming." I think everybody was trying to keep a brave face, but we kind of thought, "Oh, damn, we're screwed." Even though I think many people were pretty optimistic, but I think a lot of us were just like, "How are we going to stand up to militarized police forces raiding camps?" We had a conversation the day they delivered the notice of the injunction. And we were like, "Okay, how many people do we think can be arrested?" We thought we lost a day or two. But we've lasted over 80, or I think about 80 days now, with 500 arrests. I

t's beyond our wildest dreams, honestly. Even Teal-Jones, in their injunction application, has said that this is a formidable movement. I think it's expanded into a national issue at this point and it's not going to go away but I guess the RCMP are under the impression. Premier Horgan is under the impression that as long as they shut down our blockade, then we'll be gone. If they raid Fairy Creek HQ again and again and again, and if they knock down the blockades, it'll just pop up very quickly again. We're not going to stop fighting until these old-growth forests are protected. And not only these old-growth forests, but all old-growth forests. We're not going to stop fighting until there is a moratorium on old-growth logging in British Columbia.

Jackie: Not long after the enforcement started, a lot of the arrests were making it to social media and really bringing more awareness to the actual blockades. Not long after that, there was a minor incident when the three First Nations communities whose land the blockades are on came together to call for deferrals which were honoured by the government. I know it wasn't a lot, but what did that mean for you? And do you consider that a win at all?  

Joshua: So what ended up happening with those deferrals was, the government has promised to protect this area for the next two years, less than two years now, which essentially looks like postponing about a kilometre, half a kilometre of road building and 14 hectares of old-growth logging for about two years. This comes at a time when scientists are warning of ecosystem collapse, and they're warning that we are almost out of old-growth. 

At this moment, we're currently logging about 150,000 hectares of old-growth per year. It's easy to say, "Oh, look, we won something, at least they won't be road building into the headwaters right now." But they're going to be logging immediately adjacent to that. Right now, there's still extensive logging, hundreds of hectares of old-growth logging planned across Teal-Jones's tenure alone. And then across British Columbia, their plan is to annihilate an entire ecosystem. So personally, I can't say it's a win; when they say, "We're going to postpone the annihilation of this piece for two years," it's far too little, and it's almost insulting. About 90% of British Columbians want to see these areas protected. They are the most carbon-rich, most biodiverse ecosystems in the world and we're going to throw you crumbs while we're throwing industry, almost the entire pie. 

Jackie: It was around that time when the arrests were kind of top of mine when there was actually one day where 2000 people showed up to camp. And that seemed to be the peak of public awareness so far. Do you think that after that, it kind of faded for a little bit? What is your perspective on how the momentum has changed since then?

Joshua: I think that there have been moments where we've had a lot of momentum. And then there have been moments where we're wondering if we'll have enough people at camp. So it definitely varies a lot. However, at this point, we're in it for the long haul. There are hundreds of people out there, and we aren't going anywhere. While we'll have upturns and downturns, today is one of those days with a lot of increased awareness. Lots of people at unprecedented rallies happening at the BC Legislature with bands from all over the province and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs are there. We're picking up momentum, and then sometimes it ends, sometimes it flows. Right now, we are in a spot where we aren't going to go anywhere, the RCMP has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to get rid of us, and they have not been successful at all and they won't be because we have the moral high ground.  

Jackie: Speaking of the RCMP, today being the monumental day that it is the one-year anniversary, the RCMP are raiding the headquarters. What is the significance of that?  

Joshua: At eight o'clock this morning, we got word from Fairy Creek HQ, which has historically been the area where the RCMP hasn't enforced because it's where we have more fortifications than anywhere else. It's one of the original blockades. They flew in tactical teams into this place called hell camp, which is behind Fairy Creek HQ and to land back in river camps, and they began enforcing there. So far, they have a team of about twenty-four RCMP officers at the front gates of HQ. And so far today, there have been at least twenty arrests. It's significant because the RCMP sees this day of celebration, where theoretically, you could have the possibility to bring out hundreds of people to the blockades and with the one-year anniversary coinciding with indigenous peoples a day. I think they saw the potential for a lot of people to come out to the blockades, and they're trying to scare people away.

 I cannot stress this clearly enough, and we need people on the front lines because the only thing the police are afraid of is numbers. They are afraid of hundreds of people marching at them; otherwise, without numbers without more people on the front lines; this is not a fight we can win. If you've ever thought about going out there before, now's the time to go out there and resist oppression. One of the first things we heard from river camp or HQ, right when the police started enforcing, was that somebody went live on a very quick Instagram account. They said they're targeting BIPOC people on Indigenous People's Day because, of course, that's how the RCMP works. It's absolutely shameful that under a supposedly progressive government that supposedly cares about climate change on the same day that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases their report saying that we're running out of time. The BC government and the RCMP are arresting citizens peacefully, trying to resist the destruction of the most carbon-rich, biodiverse, culturally important ecosystem in British Columbia. 

Jackie: Yeah, today is kind of a very interesting day for the history of this movement. Because it is the year anniversary, the RCMP is currently raiding HQ. And then also it coincides with this report talking about climate change and how we are on a terrible track. So it feels like today is going to be one of those days where your momentum is shifting. What do you think that that means for the future of this movement? 

Joshua: I think I can tell you one thing, I don't know what the next few weeks or next few months look like in this movement, but I can tell you that it's not going to stop until Premier Horgan addresses our concerns. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Philip has called for a complete moratorium, a unilateral moratorium across a province-wide moratorium of all growth logging across British Columbia. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs has said the opt-in strategy where nations ask for deferrals on this piece of old-growth or that piece of old-growth. Then the government may or may not decide to grant them that deferral depending on if it's politically convenient, isn't working. Instead, the BC government and the Ministry of Forests need to come out with a unilateral deferral and then provide for the next two years, which wouldn't shut down the industry or put a pause on what's going on. Give us the chance to have options and, at the end of that, have a path to permanent protection of all of the old-growth. Ultimately, that's what we need right now. 

The IPCC report said that one of the most concerning things in it potentially was that our forests are now becoming releases of co2 because we're destroying them. And that's a direct result of logging, such as what's happening in British Columbia. So if the BC NDP is serious about actually doing something, they need to stop logging our primary old-growth forests, period, end of story. They need to listen to the union of BC Indian Chiefs and listen to the majority of British Columbians who are asking them to do so and stop dragging their feet stoppage trying to fool us with a piece of land deferred here a piece of land for there and take bold, transformative change, as the IPCC report has called for and their own old-growth strategic review called for over a year ago when they received it, and which they have completely ignored. 

Jackie: It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of weeks because there is going to be a federal election. The NDP federally and provincially, they played together. Obviously, the NDP really needs British Columbia because that's a very important area for voters for them. So I would be curious to see how their attitude towards old-growth shifts with jug meat Singh and, by extension, with premier Horgan. So perhaps maybe we will start to see some different narratives coming from the government. Again, that's all speculative, and it remains to be seen what actually happens.

Joshua: Well, personally, I think that premier Horgan and the NDP nationally need to take a lesson from history .Last time, there was the war in the woods in the 1990s. The BC NDP oversaw that fiasco, and they lost. I think this time,  they are losing tens of thousands of voters. They're hemorrhaging voters right now because this is one of the most politically popular issues in British Columbia, and old-growth logging and 90% of British Columbians agree with it. Jagmeet Singh has just recently come out with this patronizing response to us, saying, "Thanks for your concern, thanks for reaching out to my office. We've already saved Fairy Creek. Luckily, we've deferred logging there. So you guys are good, and you don't have to worry about it. You're in good hands." When in reality, the BC government is dragging their heels and talking to industry? Well, they aren't talking to the citizens who are the biggest stakeholders in this issue. They're talking to private interests and defending private interests and saying, "Oh, yeah, we're going to change in 2023, we're going to change." 

Right now, they're setting themselves up, first of all, to lose the next election. I'm sure of that because it's important that not only are they overseeing the destruction of an entire ecosystem, but they're also overseeing the arrest and brutalization of land defenders when it's one of the most politically popular issues in the country, right now. They will feel repercussions if they don't have a serious change in narrative and say the protesters were right. We're going to take you seriously, listen to our own report, and not virtue signal and commit to serious change. They say they're committed all the time. Well, the best way they can prove that is by actually taking serious action and taking it now. What that looks like right now is listening to the union of BC Indian Chiefs and having a province-wide deferral on all old-growth logging periods for the next two years with a path to permanent protection. From there, we'll see where that goes. The only way to preserve an ecosystem that is on the brink of collapse is to pause the destruction and take stock of what you have and what you don't have, and then figure out, "Okay, how can we set up economic alternatives for First Nations? How can we set up a transition for rural communities to value-added forest products instead of an export-based model? And how can we ensure that our priority is maintaining the ecosystem integrity of an ecosystem that is so important for sustaining life on Earth, not only human life but non-human life?"

 One of the things that I found incredibly telling is that we've had teams of scientists go out to our blockades. They haven't necessarily gone to the most biodiverse areas; they've just gone to our camps. Whatever forest we look in, we're finding endangered lichens. We're finding threatened Western screech owls, marbled murrelets all over the place because these forests are chock full of biodiversity. The way our resources are managed is completely disingenuous because they express wanting to change, while at the same time they're not; they're not even enforcing the rules that exist right now. It's ultimately the companies deciding whether they want to enforce environmental policies or not, whether they want to do endangered species surveys or not; they are relying on industry. Industry has only one motive, and that motive is to pillage the last of this ecosystem, and it's absurd.  

Jackie: The Canadian border for you is opening up to people who are fully vaccinated? Does that mean that you're actually going to be able to come over and see these trees again anytime soon? 

Joshua: I'm planning on being there by next week, and I'm excited to see what this next chapter of the movement looks like. I think this first year has been only the beginning to be completely honest. I think everybody assumes that this will end with or maybe not everybody, but certainly, the RCMP and politicians assume that it will end once they break the blockades at Fairy Creek, but no, this is just the beginning. Today there's this unprecedented rally uniting dozens of different stakeholders, including numerous hereditary and elected chiefs and band councils and from all across the province, including the Union of BC Indian chiefs. I think the next step looks like taking this province-wide. I think that the next few years are going to ramp up. And I think that our elected leaders need to realize that, and they need to act on that, and if they don't, they will be ousted from office.  

Jackie: Josh, thank you so much for your time today. 

Joshua: Yeah, thanks for having me. 

Jackie: Capital Daily has done an extensive amount of coverage on the Fairy Creek blockades all the way back to the beginning, including a lot of things that we didn't even get to talking about in this episode. There are tons of previous podcast episodes where we spoke about policy options, comparing it to other protests that have happened in BC, and we've even profiled activists on the ground at the very crude blockades. If you're interested, I highly suggest going back and listening to some of those. Also, check out our written coverage, all of which you can find a