Ethics, Economics, and Ecosystems


Canada exports more timber than any other country in the world. It also has one of the world's highest rates of deforestation, leading to questions about the current approach to logging and about who benefits from the industry. In the following interviews, indigenous leaders in British Columbia address these questions from three perspective.

The first interviews are with Simon Lucas and Richard Leo, chiefs from separate bands of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nation. They express what they want and how they view present forestry practices in their area. The last interview is with Ed John, chief of the Tla'tzen people and president of Tanizul Timber, the largest First Nation logging company in Canada.

Several themes emerge on common issues facing First Nations, as Canada's indigenous peoples term themselves. First, each interviewee asks if any forestry industry, whether controlled by First Nations or by others, can meet tribal economic needs while maintaining the ethical standards and spiritual ties and indigenous people have to their lands. Second, it had become apparent that the existing government structures for harvesting and protecting forests don't accommodate indigenous philosophies. Third, these three Native American leaders agree with Canada's First Nations need to control natural resources on traditional lands as they seek to gain recognition and maintain their identity and autonomy as a people. Finally, the interviews address the current hope for settling land claims and some of the ramifications of that process. I A DIFFERENT TYPE OF ENVIRONMENTALIST: KLA-KISHTKE-IS (CHIEF SIMON LUCAS)

Chief Simon Lucas is on the Aboriginal Council for British Columbia and the British Columbia Fisheries Commission. Chief Lucas discusses the cultural and economic impacts of logging upon the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, as well as their philosophy governing the relationship of people to the land.

My name is Kla-Kisht-Ke-Is (Simon P. Lucas) from Hesquiat tribe, one of 14 tribes along the west coast of Vancouver Island. We are part of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. The Nuu-Chah-Nulth claim ownership to one-third of Vancouver Island and have salmon-fishing rights from Cape Cook down to Fort Renfrew.

I come from a very beautiful part of British Columbia. The reservations we own are all fronted by the Pacific Ocean. There are rugged rocky shorelines and smooth sandy beaches, creeks, and rivers, all leading out to the ocean, lakes of all sizes, beautiful scenery backed by huge mountains. We still have serene forests, whales traveling our shorelines, eagles peacefully flying over the tree tops.

It is interesting that conventional forest rotation periods are similar to human life spans - perhaps we cannot really conceive of and understand the time required to develop forests. Much of a forest, and particularly an old growth forest, cannot be seen - it is in the soil that has developed with the forest above the ground over millions of years. Soil is an integral part of the network of life in old growth forests. And it is the soil, particular, that cannot be regenerated within human lifetimes and the rotation periods of conventional forestry.

Old growth forests have a tremendous variety of life forms, layered from the tops of the highest tress to the deepest parts of the living soil. It is this aspect of old growth forests - the fact that they are so full of life - that forms the basis of their social, cultural, and environmental importance.

The very survival of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people, and other native peoples, depends on the survival of old growth forests. Old growth forests are our most important "places of worship." We go to old growth forests to prepare ourselves for important events and times in our lives. Within forests, we are completely surrounded by the life; within forests, we can renew our spiritual bonds with all living things. Can we, or any people, survive without a strong spiritual basis to our lives?

By far the most urgent issue is the need to develop, or re-develop, a philosophy of respect for life, and of respect for the incredible network of life, growth, death, and decay in an old growth forest. As part of this philosophy, we need to humbly understand our place and our responsibilities within all of creation. Effective protection of the values inherent in old growth forests can only develop out of a renewed spirituality and philosophy based on respect for the living world.

I do not believe that we can, with humble respect for creation, project the old growth forests in one watershed and eliminate the old growth in the next watershed. Old growth must have its proper place in each watershed. In particular, we must leave untouched very large areas of old growth forests along the sides of streams.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans developed a policy called "no net loss." It was a big scam then, and it is still a scam today. The policy says that it's okay for a company to cut heavily around some rivers if others are left intact. But that means that some rivers may be totally destroyed. "No net loss" looks at the overall picture instead of the individual ones. I don't know why the government would allow such things except that there is no way for it to survive without money. When you have a monetary system at the top of your priority pyramid, almost no philosophy can topple that.

What we were losing just went on and on. After logging, the companies sprayed the land. The berries were sprayed with we don't know what. It was some type of herbicide. It killed off the alder. The animals lost their habitat and had to go somewhere else. That had a tremendous affect on us in terms of our diet. Not only that, the litter from logging did major damage to the rivers, to beaver dams. A major coho lake was logged to the edge of the lake, destroying the run. The coho are almost extinct.

Environmentalists talk about creating land or marine sanctuaries. We disagree on this: we don't believe in disassociatinh ourselves from any life. We must have learned our lesson by now that anytime government declares an area as a park that it only opens up other areas for total exploitation. Society must understand that First Nation peoples are a very different type of environmentalist. We believe that we are connected to all life and that it is because of life that we live.

Now the big question arises, can we afford to have contradictions with the high philosophy that our people hold towards forests? Yes, it is possible, provided we place life at the top of the pyramid and that money is placed as one of the necessities of life. * The first objective must be that following generations will always have among them 500-to 1,000-year-old trees. * All alternative must ensure first that forests remain intact. * All living beings, seen or unseen, must be assured a good quality of life, for we strive to survive from that life.

So how do we deal with one of the major contradictions, "employment?" All 14 of our tribes average from 60 to 90 percent unemployment. In previous years, we have been planned out of the overall economic plan, and because of that our people are in dire straits. So what will motivate us to engage in forestry, in reforestation, in enhancing the fish population in our creeks, rivers, lakes? Many of our tribes are developing holistic management plans for water, land, sea, and sky.

Yes, we incorporate four basic high principles in terms of our understanding the forests and life. Our emotions, our mentality, our physical state, our spirituality. The continuing survival of life must be at the peak of the pyramid of our thinking always. II "THIS IS WHAT WE WANT:" CHIEF RICHARD LEO

Richard Leo, chief of the Kyuqot Band, has long fought ouver-cutting on his tribe's traditional lands, starting with a battle at Mears Island in 1975. At that time, intensive protests by indigenous nations and environmental groups stopped clear-cut logging in Kyuquot territory. In addition, the Kyuqot became actively involved in both tribal land claims and negotiations over forest resources with industry and the provincial government.

Our people are native people that have lived in Clayoquot since time immemorial. Unit the government established timber reserves around the turn of the century, we had control of our land and our resources in our territory. Our lands were respected by neighboring bands on the north side and the south side of us, out to as far as you could see. Part of why the government set up the reserves was to cut us off from most of the land in our tribal territory and take over the surrounding areas.

We've got about over 300 members scattered out. At least 75 to 200 live in Clayoquot. The main island, where I am living now, is where most of the people were living at the turn of the century. The rest live in Victoria, Vancouver, and even Seattle. The economic basis of Clayoquot is mostly fishing. We have unemployment of over 50 percent.

We're getting into silviculture, but we had a heck of a time trying to do that with the Forestry Service. We are saying that we want to be directly involved in whatever happens in Clayoquot in terms of economic rehabilitation. We want to be part of the process of managing fish and other resources. We are calling for a comprehensive resource-management plan.

Right now, most logging in Clayoquot is massive clear cutting. That's why we oppose the practices the lumber companies use. These practices are very old and aren't changing very rapidly. The multinational companies seem to have their own way. We don't have much say.

The companies got timber licenses and moved into the Clayoquot area when the government developed the timber reserves. The companies take advantage of the vast amount of timber on Vancouver Island, particularly in Clayoquot. The size of the reserve and the clear cut are at the companies' discreation, with no real regulation. The companies can take a watershed or a mountain and strip it in a couple of years until it is totally clear cut right down both sides of the valley. Part of our job is to make the government aware of this unsustainable logging, but now a company develops a logging plan, and the Forestry Service approves it.

We aren't totally against logging, for we realize that the provincial government depends on it for revenue. Some environmentalists want to shut logging down rather then change the harvesting practices, but our primary interest is to make the necessary changes in the field so we don't overharvest. We're saying that we have to be directly involved throughout the process right in Clayoquot. We are the ones who have to look at it. We are the ones who have to go out and do something about the destruction when something goes wrong, whether it's to the river system or the mountains or the forest. Clear cutting is wasteful - the amount of waste that is on the ground is unreal. If you want something from the forest, you only take what you need.

In the past, we made various attempts at trying to come to terms with forestry in Clayoquot. However, joint-management efforts so far have been attempts at manipulation. For example, in 1988 and '89, we had a lot of protests against the forest industry. Many people heard about the situation in Clayoquot, and people in Europe, people from Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and all these organizations helped us. The Forestry Service started to listen to us and decided to make a few changes. It slowed down the cutting in Clayoquot.

After a while, we formed a committee with the government, which is their favorite way of shutting you up. Under Canada's "Green Plan," a "Model Forestry Program" was to be run by the Kyuquot Band. The government said we were going to have a "land-use committee" called the Western Canada Advisory Council and asked me and others from Clayoquot to be on it. I went to two meetings and resigned because approximately 90 percent of the people there were from industry and the forestry service. Right now, the companies are logging in one area where we said we didn't went any development because the advisory council gave the go-ahead.

Control and Compensation

Our primary concern is to change how logging is done. We want to avoid more disasters in watersheds, especially from the way they've been stripped. Our people have been brought up to look after everything in the forest, the rivers, and the ocean as one, and we're trying to implement that philosophy. We are concerned about watersheds and the river system because our livelihood depends on it.

We are just starting to negotiate land claims with the Department of Fisheries in Ottawa, which could lead to negotiations with the Forestry Service and the provincial government. We want our whole territory back. I can't say how big that is off hand, but it is very big. Now we haven't got much land. We have twenty-nine reserves, as they call them, and each is from five to twenty-nine acres. Because the Kyuquot Band doesn't have a city or any industry in our territory, the big issues in terms of negotiating land claims are fishing and forestry.

If we get the land back, we want to have work done with our management - management from the community, not from the Forestry Service. We hope to do some sustainable logging. And we need control and compensation to we can rehabiliate the area properly instead of the piece-meal stuff the Forestry Service does. We want to talk to the people that are involved in our territory. We want to go directly to a company and say, "This is what we want, this is what we want to do. Let's start working on it."

Our land claims have created uncertainty in the industry and for both the federal and provincial governments. All of a sudden, they realized that the Tribal Council is serious. They know that if they don't cooperate, they might get left out in the cold because we are claiming a lot of territory.

However, cutting is going on faster than ever because many companies are afraid of land claims. We need to slow this cutting down. They are not only hurting us, they are hurting themselves, too. There won't be anything left to log when we win our land claims.

We do have an agreement with International Forest Products to come up with a plan that will work for both of us. What has to change is the rate of cut. We keep telling the company there won't be any timber left in Clayoquot after 20 years at the rate at which they now harvest. So we are getting directly involved in the field to check sensitive areas, making sure there is enough of a windbreak and other protection in any area to prevent destruction.

We haven't seen any economic gains yet from this effort. In our last meeting, we pointed that out to them. We are running our own program, using our own budget, and it is time they start to pay back Clayoquot for he work we need to have. III A HUGE DILEMMA: CHIEF ED JOHN

Chief Ed John is president of Tanizul Timber, one of the few First Nation lumber companies to gain a tree-farm license, a 25-year authorization to harvest trees on government land. Ten years after the company's inception, Chief John talks of both the resources and the dilemmas that come with trying to balance economics and ethical principles.

When we looked at our community in the early 1970s, most of our people were employed in the forestry industry - logging or in the sawmills. So we tried to determine what development opportunities we would be most comfortable in, where we knew something about the resources. Our people suggested we consider getting involved in timber nd forestry.

We were interested in creating jobs for our people and generating revenue for our community. Our unemployment rate was 80 to 90 percent, and we wanted to do something because governments were looking at that on a Band-Aid level. We wanted to be in a position to take control and do something for our people.

Tanizul Timber was set up by the community for the community. The shareholders are our community. The board of directors, appointed by the community and held accountable by the community, oversee the development of the company for the people. The board is also responsible for setting up and land-management and other management practices that will best advocate the objectives we have set out for ourselves. We talk through issues, and we follow the course.

Although this operation is community-owned, we treat it as a business to make it viable for tomorrow and for the future as well. First and foremost, Tanizul Timber has to be viable economically. Over the 10 years since Tanizul started, we have provided jobs for our people. We have also generated about $45 to $50 million in revenue. This money stays in the community, and we use it to buy goods and services and to support the local economy. It isn't a lot of money, but it's revenue we never had before.

Considering the limited amount of resources we have at our disposal - about 172,500 cubic yards of timber a year, which is a very small amounts in this area - it goes a long way to achieving what we set out for ourselves. But bear in mind that Tanizul Timber only generates a limited amount of revenue and accesses only a limited amount of resources. If we had a million cubic yards, it would be different, but the government limits the size of the area and the amount of annual cut. The government also requires that we take at least half of our allowable annual cut. Over a five-year period, we have to be within 10 percent of the allowable cut.

There are philosophical differences with government policy. Our people have traditionally hunted, fished, and trapped. Recently, my brother and I were out hunting when we came to an area that had been clear cut. We could see what that does to the land and what it means. The fact that the clear cut was by our own company was a point to consider. We have a piece of territory, and the issue is whether various uses can be reconciled.

We are in a fluid position and must make milestone decisions on matters that are important for our future - matters related to history, matters related to fisheries, matters related to hunting. Those practices sustained our people for hundreds of generations. Today, we look at sustaining our community by extracting resources. Can we do that if we're to live according to the philosophies of our own people?

We are moving away from our traditional lifestyles into a new way of using the land, but we must remember we can't abandon the past in exchange for what this new resource development will do for us. We can make all sorts of rationalizations about what First Nations brings to forestry, but the fact of the matter is that we are also getting involved in a type of development that, in some ways, conflicts with our values. Yes, we can bring more sensitive consideration into the use of the land and the resources, but there is a conflict of values. If we are going be involved in forestry, we have to make some decisions as to how we are going to do it, how to recognize certain situations, and how far we are prepared to compromise. These are decisions the community has to make, and they are important issues to deal with.

To some degree, we also have to work with industry and government because we are now part of the process. It is our land they are talking about. And we are at yet another door in negotiating land claims in the province. For 120 years, the province ignored the legal interests of our people. For the first time, they are prepared to come and sit with us at the table to come to an agreement.

Our land claim has forced the government to the table. We have an agreement in this province, signed by the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of British Columbia, to embark on a process to resolve the issues. And there is a wealth of interest in this. Remember, the timber interests in this province have the government committed to them, and the forest resource is mostly an exported product. It makes our province very dependent on resource development and resource extraction, and it's in the government's interest to make sure logging continues.

Our people survived for many years in forestry, but the industry is changing. We are talking about the traditional territories of my people, and more and more we see the timber companies exploiting our territories. We see the change, but do we like it? Our communities are taking into consideration the alarming rate at which this exploitation is happening. It is a huge dilemma. In the past, we put up blockades against industry and government for how they handled our land and our resources.

We live on the land and that affects how we treat it. Fishing and hunting are important to us. Water helps sustain the fish that feed the rivers - it must be clean for the fish to spawn. In a lot of places in our province, the salmon are being rapidly depleted because of contamination due to erosion after logging. In some cases, the salmon have disappeared. The salmon resource has been good at feeding our people far longer than forestry has, and we won't jeopardize that.

When we look at timber resources, we look at them from a different perspective from other timber companies. That land is our land; it is our traditional territory. That land and the resources within that territory have sustained our people for hundreds of generations. And they must sustain us into the future for as many hundreds of generations.

To us, the moose, the bear, the berries in the forest are as important as the timber we take out. Our philosophy teaches us to treat the animals in that forest with as much respect as we treat each other. We give thanks for every animal we take from the forest - for every bird, every fish because that allows us to survive. That is a part of our philosophy and teaching. I don't know if ranchers look at cattle the same way.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

CSQ Disclaimer

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.

CSQ Issue: