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A Place at the Table?
The Great Bear Rainforest and ForestEthics
from "Offsetting Resistance: The effects of foundation funding from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Athabasca River", a special report by Dru Oja Jay and Macdonald Stainsby.
Released September, 2009.
Nuxalk Nation hereditary chief Qwatsinas (Ed Moody) explains that logging was causing concerns for his people on the Central BC Coast around Bella Coola, and that resistance began because “In the boom of the 1960’s and 1970’s, a rush [for logging companies] to get all the timber they could” was already underway. In response, “There was action with the hereditary chiefs and the elder people, and eventually the band council.” In 1994, the Nuxalk Nation invited Environmental Non- Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) large and small into their territory to see large scale clearcut logging then well underway.
“We sat down and discussed the pros and cons of any kind of relationship, and we set up a protocol and signed a protocol agreement.” The alliance with Greenpeace and smaller ENGOs Forest Action Network, People’s Action for Threatened Habitat and Bear Watch, says Qwatsinas, “started out really basic. The key people signed the agreements and we had our goals and our objectives and what we want to do to protect the environment.”
“That was the common goal between the environmentalists and ourselves as the First Nation, the Nuxalk, still had the outstanding issue of the land question. There had been a process developed in British Columbia called the BC Treaty Process. We could see that it wasn’t what we wanted because it was very limited, was kind of corrupt and really bent towards the industry.”
“Finally, we just got tired of [the government consultation mechanisms] and went out to King Island and Pod Creek... that’s where the beginning of time starts for our people. That was pretty well the final predicament that allowed us to [start supporting direct action]. Nothing was happening and nothing was changing and the logging was still going on. So we gathered together and went out there and set up the road blockades.”
By 1997, the invited ENGOs began blockades in concert with the host Nation. Their direct actions disrupted logging on and off until the year 2000. A boycott campaign targeted those who bought the harvested trees.
In 2000, The Rainforest Solutions Project (RSP)–comprised of Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC, Rainforest Action Network and, for the first time as a separate entity, ForestEthics–declared an end to blockades and began closed-door negotiations with the BC Government and logging companies. With the sudden about-face of Greenpeace and other large groups, and the attendant drop in funding, the blockades ended. The smaller groups and First Nations were sidelined, in violation of the protocol agreements they had initially signed.
Suddenly a new group, ForestEthics, was effectively leading negotiations. ForestEthics, Qwatsinas explains, wasn’t involved in the resistance to logging in the rainforest. Key Greenpeace organizer Tzeporah Berman, famous for her role in the protests around logging in Clayoquot Sound, left to become a key negotiator for ForestEthics.
The Valhalla Wilderness Society was one of the smaller ENGOs sidelined in the negotiations initiated by the RSP. Director Anne Sherrod says that a significant development in the Great Bear Rainforest negotiations was the disappearance of traditional mechanisms of accountability. “The Great Bear Rainforest was the the first place where private collaborations between government, industry and a few environmental groups were able to gain pre-eminence over a public planning process.”
“Backroom negotiations between the Rainforest Solutions Project and the logging companies,” Sherrod explains, “determined the main parts of the deal. The planning tables didn’t object because they were dominated by timber interests.”
Qwatsinas says that the “table” where negotiations took place kept environmental groups quiet. “It was just like a public gag-order. You couldn’t bad-mouth the logging companies, you couldn’t bad mouth the logging practices or you couldn’t bad mouth the products or the type of logging or you couldn’t bad mouth the marketing.”
“It was a big, a huge stumbling block for the groups to even try to deter development activity in the Great Bear Rainforest.”
The Valhalla Wilderness Society and several other environmental groups, says Sherrod, “had been working in coastal campaigns for ten or fifteen years before ForestEthics and the RSP existed.” These groups were ultimately betrayed by the RSP, whose members reneged on protocol agreements.
“We welcomed the arrival of ForestEthics’ market campaign, but we were also very wary of these groups representing our issues in private negotiations. They had little, if any, experience working on the mid and north coasts. In the interest of working together, we all signed a protocol agreement that held them to a certain level of protection in whatever agreements they made at the table, and to open information flow with us. But they just violated the agreement behind everyone’s back.”
Sherrod adds: “When our input was ignored and we saw atrocious things being accepted as ‘Ecosystem-based Management’, we disassociated ourselves from it.”
Qwatsinas says that the agreement lacked basic mechanisms of accountability or transparency.
“A lot of it was really hush-hush, it was kept really quiet. There were a lot of things we wondered about, it just looked like it was a stalemate. Nothing was happening and logging activity just kept on going.” The Nuxalk were left out of the negotiations. “Little parts were discussed about this and that but they never went into the deepness of what they had on the table.”
Qwatsinas says Greenpeace out-and-out violated the protocol agreements signed with the Nuxalk First Nation. “Greenpeace was one of the signatories [of the GBR deal] and they violated our protocol and the other groups [that had been doing direct actions: FAN, PATH, Bear Watch] weren’t involved in the agreements. Before anything went to the table, [Greenpeace] was supposed to tell us what it was all about.... It was kept quiet. There were certain conditions that they had to abide by having signed that [confidentiality] agreement.”
When asked about the violation of the protocol agreement, Tzeporah Berman responded, after a long pause: “It’s been a long time, and I don’t recall the specifics of a protocol agreement we signed with the Nuxalk.” Berman said she understood that Qwatsinas and others were unhappy with the deal.
Berman says she is still happy with the deal, despite the compromises. “No one was stopping other groups from blocking logging roads,” she explains. “We made a strategic decision that we thought would protect the most land.”
“What we say to our critics is, if you can get a better result, do it.”
Qwatsinas says the end result was a failure to protect the Great Bear Rainforest. “What it did was quash any attempt to fully protect the Great Bear Rainforest... It became a negotiating table and really that table couldn’t make any demands that other groups wanted. It couldn’t meet anything that met the standards of what other people or other communities wanted.”
The way negotiations were set up “really limited what the grassroots people could do,” says Qwatsinas. “Internationally or nationally [calling off direct action] sort of highlighted the Great Bear Rainforest agreement and really said it was going to save the Great Bear Rainforest. It hasn’t. They’re still logging the Great Bear Rainforest, they’re still developing the coast now.”
“What it did was quash any attempt to fully protect the Great Bear Rainforest... It became a negotiating table and really that table couldn’t make any demands that other groups wanted. It couldn’t meet anything that met the standards of what other people or other communities wanted.”
“It was just like a public gag-order. You couldn’t bad-mouth the logging companies, you couldn’t bad mouth the logging practices or you couldn’t bad mouth the products or the type of logging or you couldn’t bad mouth the marketing.”
Qwatsinas was arrested at Ista in 1995, 1996 and 1997, during a direct action campaign to stop logging on Nuxalk lands. First Nations were ultimately sidelined during secret negotiations.
“A lot of it was really hush-hush, it was kept really quiet... Nothing was happening and logging activity just kept on going.”
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