Blockade Musings on Patcheedaht Unceded Territory

By Esther Muirhead

Winding my way from Lake Cowichan to Port Renfrew, the ravages of continuous clearcuts on steeply sloped mountains, magnified the sun’s rays bouncing off rocky mirrors of ravaged lands, like water hitting a hot frying pan. Driving up the mountain to (Renfrew) River Blockade, stopping road-building on the east side of Fairy Creek, the ominous logging roads carved into mountains and the large machinery scattered about, I wondered what planet I was on. Once at the blockade, and walking into a replica of a 200 million year old rainforest ecosystem, I took a deep breath and wept. Did you know that 200 million years ago, coniferous forests almost went extinct as a result of the evolutionary advancement of flowering trees that came to dominate the earth? The conifers retreated to the margins of the planet where a small number of species managed to maintain a foothold by adapting to extremely harsh conditions. Along the northwest coast of “Canada” is the only region where the conifers retain their former glory, revolving in and out of 10 thousand year cycles to create globally rare ecosystems. They are able to grow throughout the long winters and since they use water more efficiently than flowering plants they also thrive during the dry summer months. The result is a living organism so rich and so productive that temperate forest biomass is easily four times as great as that of any area in the tropics. Within the crown of a single conifer, is found as many as 1500 animal and plant species.

The ecological and spiritual value of old growth forests can never be reconciled with the resource extraction world view.

The intrinsic value of ancient forests has no place in the calculus of forest planning, which has, since its’ inception, allowed for the eventual total eradication of ancient forests. Forestry as traditionally practiced in the BC is less a science than an ideology; a set of ideas reflecting the aspirations of a closed group of professionals with a vested interest in validating its very short term, industrial practices. Old growth is “harvested” though it was never planted by humans, ancient forests are deemed “decadent” and “over mature.” In 1998, independent scientists concluded that BC logging of old growth had driven 142 salmon stocks to extinction and left 624 others on the brink of extinction. We live at the end of the clearcut; if we do nothing they will be lost within our lifetime.

Attempting to walk through the forest with my two walking poles, I would continuously fall through nurse logs into spongey damp ferns and moss up to my chest. Standing in the presence of a 3,000 year old cedar tree, knowing that she is taking care of countless younger trees, holding up the banks of the creek, pouring out oxygen in all directions, my mind stood still. These last stands reveal the intelligence of evolution and the source of ancient mythologies.

The highlight of the blockade were the frequent visits from Bill Jones, a Pateechadht elder, whose traditional homelands include the Fairy Creek watershed.

Bill described himself as the only wild Indian left in his village. I heard him saying that he wished that the federal government would cancel all band funding so that people would be forced to return to the land. He figured that most people would die but they are already dying anyway, due to poverty, health problems, drug overdoses, suicide, and domestic violence. Bill was always overflowing with patience, joy, warmth and compassion. His support is allowing us to remain confident in our efforts to save this sacred place.

One of the major issues that has arisen is clarifying how to gain consent from the Patcheedadht First Nation in support of us being on their land. We were not surprised that the Band Council did not reply to the letter sent in early August informing them of the blockade plan. I hear that poverty is widespread and with fish and hunting stocks very low, so jobs running a local mill, outfitted by Teal-Jones especially for old-growth timber, is appealing to many. The village is comprised of maybe 60 people, most youth leaving for the city and no hereditary chieftains have survived. Bill Jones was already known to us from the Walbran/Carmanah campaign and he gave us his blessing the moment he heard about the Fairy Creek blockade.

You can support the blockade by reinforcing our demand for legally binding legislation to permanently end the logging of BC’s last remaining 1% old growth forests.

Last week, the NDP came out saying they will defer logging in a few old-growth forests, for 2 years. Fairy Creek was not included in any of the deferments. This is Vicky Husband’s response, quoted in Focus Victoria; “The government’s response to the Gorley-Merkel (Old-Growth Review Panel) is a shoddy piece of spin-doctoring in advance of an election. It is duplicitous in intent, short on facts and intentionally misleading.”

We are seeking donations of thousands of dollars to hire a forest ecologist, archaeologist and biologists to argue that Fairy Creek must be protected from Teal-Jones’ chopping block.

Please contribute by sending an e-transfer donation to:

For more information contact <>.

For more information on the situation at Fairy Creek,

Featured image: Coniferous forest in Canada. By World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0