Kwakiutl First Nation angry at logging in Douglas Treaty land

The nation is calling on government to honour the Douglas Treaty


Felled spruce and cedar trees waiting to be stripped, sorted and hauled down Island. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
Felled spruce and cedar trees waiting to be stripped, sorted and hauled down Island. (Zoe Ducklow photo)

Kwakiutl First Nation’s Chief and Council are calling on the government to stop Western Forest Products (WFP) from logging on Douglas Treaty land, a two-mile-thick strip of shoreline between Port McNeill and Port Hardy.

In the last three weeks, Kwakiutl members have noticed growing sections of clearcuts, in plain sight from Highway 19, well within the Douglas Treaty boundary. The activity is in violation of a demand given to WFP by Kwakiutl leadership, mandating a ban on logging on Douglas Treaty land, to which the nation claims title.

The order does not align with WFP’s Tree Farm Licence 6 issued by the province, that entitles it to log various blocks throughout the North Island. TFL 6 covers approximately 50 per cent of Kwakiutl Traditional Territory, an area much larger than the Douglas Treaty strip. It also has sections of private land which were removed from TFL 6 amid legal controversy in 2007.

The two cut blocks in question are beside Highway 19. The one directly south of the Port Hardy Airport is part of TFL 6, and the second just past the Cluxewe Resort is Western-owned private land.

Kwakiutl First Nation’s Chief and Council have reached out to the provincial government and are consulting their legal team.

Elected Chief Ross Hunt Jr. said their main concern is about the 54 village sites within the Douglas Treaty boundary. The treaty, signed in 1851, says “… our village sites and enclosed fields are to be kept for our own use, for the use of our children and for those who may follow after us and the land shall be properly surveyed hereafter.” The lands were never surveyed, and the Kwakiutl are still trying to get time and resources to understand their relationship to those sites.

A felled bark-stripped cedar piled off Hwy 19 south of Fort Rupert in mid November. (Mark Worthing, Sierra Club photo)

Among the recently felled timber are culturally modified cedar trees from which bark had recently been stripped. Old culturally modified trees are often used as proof of occupation by First Nations. The B.C. Heritage Act protects these trees if they were modified before 1846, the year the 49th parallel roughly established a border between the U.S. and what would later become B.C. These trees were recently stripped, and so are not protected under the act.

“[The Douglas Treaty land] was always meant to be a greenbelt, and our old growth was supposed to be protected,” Hunt Jr. said.

“Our ancestors are referenced as the cedar people, so the cedar trees actually were our members, ancestors to us. Some families are descendant from that,” he said.

“When people question me about that, I ask them, well, if you believe that man can walk on water and was reborn, why is it so hard to believe that we are decendents from the environment around us?”

Hunt Jr. says the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has been lax in efforts to prioritize reconciliation with the Kwakiutl, instead giving perfunctory opportunities to consult and sometimes notifying them of policy and licences after the fact. The ministry has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Stacked timber near the Cluxewe Resort beside Hwy 19 in early December. (Zoe Ducklow photo)

WFP told the Gazette it is aware of the Kwakiutl claim that the Douglas Treaty has not been fulfilled, but said it’s a matter for government-to-government discussion. While WFP shares information with Kwakiutl as part of the licensing process, ultimately the ministry decides whether or not to issue permits.

The most recent licence renewal for TFL 6 was signed in August 2019, but Hunt Jr. says Kwakiutl wasn’t notified of the renewed licence until March 2020 after it was ratified.

Kwakiutl had been trying to negotiate for a certain parcel of land in Port McNeill, a village site and a log sort area used by WFP.

Hunt Jr. wanted this negotiation to be part of the process with renegotiating the licence, but instead says North Island ministry staff signed off on the referral to renew the agreement for another 25 years.

A bark-stripped tree with an old cedar marked for falling behind it near Fort Rupert in mid-November. (Mark Worthing, Sierra Club photo)