Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs
ON DECEMBER 1, 2021, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs held a press conference to announce it’s response to the provincial government’s 30-day deadline for First Nations to make known their position on old-growth priority area deferrals.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, provided a short and sharp official statement: “The provincial government made its announcement to much fanfare on November 2nd, but a month later First Nations are still lacking supports, and threatened old-growth forests continue to be destroyed. The Horgan government is abdicating its responsibility to protect old-growth, is pressuring First Nations into making critical decisions regarding the territories and forests they have stewarded over since time immemorial, and is continuing to deny the fact that they must immediately provide substantial resources to support First Nations towards this goal—this is consent by coercion.”
Grand Chief Phillip made a powerful personal statement, as well, which we include below:
“I WANT TO BEGIN BY THANKING THE ORGANIZERS for bringing us together to have this critically important discussion in regard to preserving, protecting and defending last stands of old-growth forest throughout the entire province of British Columbia.
“The issue of old growth is in many ways the metaphor for the absolute neglect of forest lands in BC for the last 50 years.
“If anyone has the opportunity to fly over British Columbia, you will see a massive wasteland of clearcuts. Recently, within the context of flooding in Merritt, there was a time-lapse photograph of the progressive clearcut logging in the Merritt area. [The video] starts about a decade ago and brings you up to today and it’s absolutely shocking the amount of timber that’s been removed from the hills around the Merritt area.
“We all know, once you remove the timber, those lands are vulnerable to mudslides and rockslides and flooding and so on and so forth. But what’s really heartbreaking about that scenario is many of those clearcuts were undertaken by First Nation forestry companies. What happens in our world is we’re recruited by the large timber companies, and our approach is brown-washed [by] slapping an Indian name on the logging company and then we hop on the bandwagon of clearcutting, pipelines, mines, and join the parade in regard to totally devastating the lands, environment, the delicate riparian ways and the habitat.
“There’s been millions of acres in British Columbia that have been clearcut that have totally devastated the habitat of wildlife. All wildlife populations are crashing beyond belief. The caribou, moose, elk, deer populations—they’re migrating into the cities. It’s amazing: we have urban deer now—there’s nothing for them to eat where they once lived in the forest lands.
“So that’s part of the issue that we’re dealing with. The timber that has survived this onslaught, exploitation and profiteering is the old-growth stands. And that’s why there’s such a pitched battle over saving the old growth.
“Let’s be clear. What we want is a moratorium on old-growth logging. Period. We don’t want some convoluted, concocted, deceitful notion of deferrals, of kicking the ball down the road and allowing the industrialized devastation of logging in British Columbia to continue.
“Surely to goodness people have connected the dots and understand that clearcut logging has played a major role in the flooding, in the landslides, the mudslides that have destroyed our transportation infrastructure, our water systems, our villages and towns.
“It’s time for the government to understand that they have an enormous responsibility to properly caretake the lands throughout the province of British Columbia—and stop pandering to big industry, stop pandering to the corporate world in terms of oil and gas, forestry, and fish farms, you name it.
“We have a very, very corrupt system whereby the corporations finance the election campaigns and expect concessions once the government is elected. At the end of the day it’s the pristine beauty of the land—the birthright of every British Columbian, not just Indigenous people, all British Columbians. And that’s what we’re fighting for and that’s why we have so many wonderful friends and allies standing with us on the front lines.
“The response from government is militarized police raids. RCMP in full military gear, carrying assault rifles, attack dogs. That’s the face of LNG, that’s the face of mining, that’s the face of Fairy Creek and clearcutting.
“So I just want to hold my hands up to all of those good people in British Columbia that understand this issue and know that we have to stand together to defend British Columbia.
“The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People does not and was never meant to open the doors for Indigenous entrepreneurs to join the gold rush and go out there with their chainsaws and cut down old-growth forests, or clearcut forests. That’s not what the UN Declaration is about. The UN Declaration is about the teachings that have been handed down for millennia to protect Mother Earth, to defend Mother Earth. It’s our grandchildren we are fighting for.
“So I thank all those that have come together and put themselves in harm’s way to defend the land, Mother Earth. Mother Earth belongs to all of us.”