At 3 a.m. this morning, a convoy of vehicles left the Tseshaht Administration Building and made its way along a rough logging road to the end of Sproat Lake. By 3:30 a.m., the group had arrived at the junction of Gracie Main and Sterling Main and positioned the vehicles to block any traffic at the site.
About a dozen Tseshaht members quickly went to work, building a fire and setting up a canopy for shelter. A tape of traditional Nuu-chah-nulth songs playing in the background had people singing while they worked.
They gathered around the fire, called together by Anne Robinson, holding an eagle feather in her hand. She sang a prayer song and invited each person to say what had brought them to the peaceful protest and road closure that morning.
Boyd Fred and William Sam Jr. had organized the gathering to protect the forest resources within the Nahmint Valley in unceded Tseshaht traditional territory. Their concern was not with the logging companies operating in the area, but with British Columbia Timber Sales, which had made promises that had not been kept.
BCTS had promised an inventory of the cedar that had yet to be logged in the area, and information on where that cedar was, they said. BCTS had promised to come to the table with Tseshaht to work on a cedar management strategy. Promises unfulfilled.
According to Tseshaht's interpretation of BCTS policy, if a cultural concern is raised by a First Nation in their operations area, the work is to be halted. Yet cedar is still being removed from the area. The road closure, which the group vows to continue until good faith negotiations are begun, will put an end to logging trucks and logging workers taking resources out of the area.
"No negotiation, no work," said Fred.
BCTS "has slapped us in the face a number of times," said Robinson. "They act like it is nothing."
Fred said he had heard that there was only five years of logging left in the territory, and that is a huge concern. The Tseshaht rely on the forest resources in many significant ways.
"It's a chain effect," Fred said. Logging off the area impacts the hunters, the berry and mushroom pickers, bark collectors, medicine gatherers. Artists need the cedar to create their work.
"Cedar is core to our beliefs and practises," said Robinson. "Who do we become in that void?" She said everything that impacts the top of the mountain comes down the mountain and impacts all other things, including spawning salmon and wildlife like bear.
Ron Dick said he was concerned about the grazing areas for the elk.
"Everything has a spirit out here," said Robinson. "And it has just as much right to live as we do."
Ha-Shilth-Sa asked how long the group intended to keep the roads closed.
"It will be as long as BCTS wants it to be," she said.
Fred, who has four children, said it was important for him to stand up for his people and his community. His 24-year-old son was on the front line standing with him as well.
William Sam said he had read a number of posts from Fred about the issue, which demonstrated so much passion for what was happening in the area that Sam had to be a part of doing something to stop it. He wanted to persuade the company to come to the table to work with Tseshaht. He had been at the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council AGM the day before to hear the discussion on the Tsilhqot'in decision.
"Yesterday was a good day," he said.
One protester said "The company is just walking over us." There are gates all over the place so Tseshaht people can't access their own territory. He said change will only come if the people force that change.
Robinson said Tseshaht grassroots members want to create a mechanism to force the company to negotiate. They want to create a "vice" to force the company to deal with the people properly and in a respectful way.
It is about free, prior and informed consent, said Robinson. About knowing the abundance of cedar remaining and how, or if, the people can access it. If all that remains is up high in the mountains, then it's not accessible to the people.
“This entire situation was completely avoidable had BCTS honored their agreement with Tseshaht First Nation to develop a Cedar Management Plan, as they agreed to do following the comments submitted by First Nations Wildcrafters in the review of the BCTS Forest Stewardship Plan in September 2013,” said Keith Hunter of First Nations Wildcrafters.
“Even though this FSP was approved by the Ministry of Forests, knowing that BCTS had agreed to develop a Cedar Management Plan, the decision was made by BCTS to proceed with logging old growth cedar without honoring their commitments made to Tseshaht. The Ministry refused to enforce the terms of the FSP that BCTS submitted.
"Consultation and accommodation is not just a check box on a procedural process. It has to mean something… When cedar inventories are asked for and these inventories do not exist, then consent cannot be given.”
Of her involvement in the road closure, Robinson said it was her time, as a grandmother, to do her part to protect the future for her grandchildren's grandchildren. She remembered that's what her grandfather Jimmy Gallic did for her. She learned that responsibility from him. Now it's time that she stood up for the future, she said.
She hopes the supporters of the protest will "find their strong heart and a connection to the earth" through their participation.
And her message to BC Timber Sales: You're not just dealing with Tseshaht politicians anymore. You're dealing with the people. The grassroots people.
"The continued harvesting of timber and other resource extraction that does not recognize the required consent-based decision making of Tseshaht First Nation will not be allowed," reads a press statement released by the group earlier today.
"Attempts made by Tseshaht to have rights and title interests recognized and fully implemented in land use decision making by the Government of British Columbia have been rejected by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations and the Crown Corporation of British Columbia Timber Sales. This peaceful action became required to meet the generational responsibilities of Tseshaht membership."
Update Oct. 3, 2014 6:30 p.m. http://www.hashilthsa.com/news/2014-10-03/deal-paper-what-tseshaht-membe...