Local musician reflects on Fairy Creek protests

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In early September, B.C.’s Fairy Creek logging protests became the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, surpassing the protests at Clayoquot Sound, B.C. in the tumultuous summer of 1993.

The protesters at Fairy Creek, near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island have been blockading the logging of old-growth yellow cedar trees – many over 1,500 years old – at the last intact watershed on the southern region of the island.

Police have now arrested more than 1,100 people at Fairy Creek since protests began to escalate in August 2020, surpassing the 856 arrests at Clayoquot during what was dubbed the ‘war in the woods’.

Kansas-Lee Hatherly’s partner Johnny at the gates to River Camp where they stayed for a few weeks to play music for the forest defenders. Kansas-Lee Hatherly photo.

Despite the vast number of arrests and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, protestors have maintained a significant enough presence to disrupt the logging activity of Teal Cedar Products, a subsidiary of the Teal- Jones Group.

The Fairy Creek Watershed overlaps the ancestral and unceded territory of the Ditidaht and the Pacheedaht First Nations with hereditary Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones supporting the protests and speaking for careful stewardship of the Fairy Creek Watershed, and against the destruction of remaining sacred places for short term gain.

With the situation in flux, the latest development came last Friday, Oct. 8 when an earlier injunction against Fairy Creek protesters was reinstated by the B.C. Court of Appeal. The move came as little surprise, but the sharp words levelled against the RCMP by Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson in his earlier denial of the injunction on Sept. 29 will likely resonate far longer and far further.

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Kansas-Lee Hatherly walking up to Grandfather Tree near River Camp in the Fairy Creek watershed.

In his ruling at the time, Judge Douglas Thompson said: “Methods of enforcement of the court’s order have led to serious and substantial infringement of civil liberties, including impairment of the freedom of the press to a marked degree.”

Overall, Thompson said the RCMP used reasonable force, but highlighted particular times where officers went too far, including ripping off protesters’ COVID-19 masks or using pepper spray to break up a crowd.

He also highlighted the fact that RCMP officers hid their identity while at the blockades and also noted their use of the thin blue line patch on their uniforms contrary to RCMP policy. The patch is viewed by some, particularly Indigenous communities, as a symbol of racist and violent police practice.

All told, the judge declined to renew the injunction at that time, saying the court’s reputation was being affected by the way the RCMP was enforcing the order. With the injunction now back in force following the successful appeal, it’s unclear how the situation will develop going forward.

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A giant red cedar recently cut down by Teal-Jones at Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. Photo courtesy of TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance.

Osoyoos singer/songwriter Kansas-Lee Hatherly and her friend Reishi (who requested we don’t use her last name) relate their experience at the protest camp. Hatherly spent nearly a month at the camp playing music for the forest defenders with her partner Johnny. Reishi was at the camp for nearly a month and a half. Here is their story.

What motivated you to go to the protest site?

Kansas-Lee: I saw what was happening from an online perspective and wanted to be there in person, and mostly to see the trees in person.

Reishi: There has been such an urgency to the logging threat and such an awful inability to come to a resolution diplomatically and hold the government accountable to their own campaign promise to end old-growth logging.

What was the experience like?

Kansas-Lee: I experienced a beautifully diverse community of people young and old, gathered together to protect this forest that they all care deeply for. It’s very humbling to be in the presence of these ancient trees. It also felt very important to be there to listen to the words of some of the Indigenous Elders and youth.

Reishi: It has been a deeply awakening experience. On one hand, it’s an eye-opening struggle in coming face to face with the violence and injustice of the colonial powers but on the other, it’s a revelatory heart-opening experience of personal and collective evolution to come together into the Earth community and to be guided by such a visionary core leadership of Indigenous Elder matriarchs.

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A watercolour painting of Grandma Losah from Tla’amin Nation, who has been at Fairy Creek often for ceremonies and to give words of encouragement and bring teachings and her presence to the forest. Kansas-Lee Hatherly artwork.

How do you feel about the earlier denial of the injunction?

Kansas-Lee: It’s good to see some sort of justice for the protesters after how the RCMP has been treating them. It’s a small win but definitely not a victory.

What was the atmosphere like at the camp after the court decision?

Kansas-Lee: I haven’t been to camp in a few months but from what I’ve seen from a few friends and news sources from the front lines, initially there was a big feeling of celebration. Shortly after this, I saw news of violence from loggers, and a road being blocked by industry. A road that is used by the coastal Nitinat/Ditidaht village when their main access road is flooded, which was the case a few days ago on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

What is next for the protest?

Reishi: The community on the frontlines will buckle down for the winter and continue holding a presence there until the movement’s stated demands are actually met and the watershed is no longer under threat.

Looking at the wider scope, the successful model of Fairy Creek is now propelling similar efforts across the continent, and all around the planet even, to come together in this way as diverse peoples unified in protecting sacred Indigenous lands.

Personally, I think what comes next is magnetizing the momentum of all these efforts together so we can really confront the colonial system as a whole which devastates all the Indigenous territories in need of such defensive measures.

What is next for you with regards to Fairy Creek?

Kansas-Lee: I’m not sure if I will return to Fairy Creek at this point, as I’m getting ready to spend the winter in the Kootenays. But for the last month or so I’ve been travelling around with Reishi and my partner Johnny, playing music and trying to spread the word about the movement.

Reishi: I am heading Eastward now to connect with other land protection efforts and inspire more folks to become actively aware and involved.

Anything you would like to say to the South Okanagan?

Kansas-Lee: It’s important to know what’s going on at Fairy Creek. This is not an anti-logging movement. We need to move towards sustainable logging practices, and stop all old-growth logging. The ‘two-year deferral’ only protects a small portion of the forest, a lot of it is actively being logged.

Some of these trees are ancient, 1,500 years old, nobody should be able to cut them down and destroy the delicate ecosystems that they have mothered for so long. This is happening on traditional and unceded Pacheedaht and Ditidaht Territory. Forest defenders continue to be invited guests of Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones.

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BC’s 9th widest known yellow cedar in the at-risk headwaters of the Fairy Creek Valley near Port Renfrew. Photo courtesy of TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance.



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