Walbran Castle Giant red cedar tree. Photo by TJ Watt, presented unchanged. Click on photo for license information.
This panel and discussion co-hosted by Elastic Spaces and the Thinking Allowed Project includes activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades, with special guest Pacheedaht First Nation Elder Bill Jones, as well as activists and scientists who were involved in rainforest activism and negotiations (e.g., the Carmanah Valley and Walbran Valley Blockades, Clayoquot Sound blockades, and Clayoquot Scientific Panel).
Forests have ecological values and cultural meanings far beyond the provisioning of timber for economic profit. Over the past decades, the forests of western Canada have been highly contested spaces, as logging activities – especially clearcutting with associated plantation establishment – have reduced the extent of the original Old Growth forests to a small fraction of their former cover. Seeing forests as three-dimensional habitat for myriad plant, animal and fungal species, as sources of oxygen, of climate control and of water and nutrient retention is one way of recognizing forest values. But, as well, forests are valued for their spiritual and inspirational values. As naturalist John Muir said, “And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” Here in British Columbia, people of all ages and cultural backgrounds have been defending Old Growth forests against logging for decades. In this workshop, we will hear from individuals who have dedicated time and energy – and have put their own security at risk – to help defend forests and their habitats. Several panel members are participants in the current standoff at Fairy Creek watershed in Pacheedaht First Nation territory. Others participated in blockades against logging at Clayoquot Sound, Walbran Valley, and Haida Gwaii. In all cases, they will share their stories, perspectives, motivations, and relationships with forest ecosystems.
These Chronicles come out of Bill’s experiences of the forest as a place of healing and spirit. It is about a struggle that is a crowning part of his maturation. Our Great Mother has awakened us, her hands filled with calm water from her mountain creeks by her ancient red cedars. Bill is not exhausted but is invigorated by this experience: saving her ancient trees, the ecosystem, 2 rivers, 2 waterways -- these blessed places: the sockeye are coming up and the coho are running.
We have to keep that water clean.
The loggers were flying in by helicopter and with the rcmp - such an odd spectacle.
It is garden work: to repair what we have done, what has been gifted to us.
Since its inception in August 2020, the Fairy Creek Blockade has evolved from a small group of hikers determined to protect the magnificent forest spread before them into the celebrated Rainforest Flying Squad. It's now an organization embraced by tens of thousands of supporters, local and around the world, attracting Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from all walks of life - students, lawyers, doctors, moms, dads, youth, forestry professionals, academics, elders and those seeking a purpose in life. At its heart, the RFS is an amorphous, free flowing movement that defies logic, without an official structure or hierarchy. Yet out of the chaos and madness, comes a brilliance and creativity that has protected the trees for the past year, physically and with every means available. And although members of the Rainforest Flying Squad had now been driven out of Fairy Creek by the militarized RCMP unit, the movement remains as strong as ever, maintaining deep personal and organizational bonds that will last a lifetime. What makes this organization work and why has it gained strength over time. in the face of such odds?
As a woman of Asian descent living on unceded Coast Salish lands, Rita faces a the question: how does she act to become a better relative with the Indigenous peoples on whose lands she is so fortunate to be? Whether or not we are Indigenous, we still have a responsibility to respect and uphold Indigenous law when we live on Indigenous lands. Rita circles around three key principles: we are part of the land; its health is our health; and we have a duty to reciprocate and care for the land and waters that give us life. Whether she is on Burnaby Mountain opposing the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline, up in the Peace Valley opposing the destructiveness of the Site C dam, or at Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek standing with the ancient rainforest defenders, Rita is always guided by what the water teaches us.
The Eden Grove Artist in Residence Program invited artists to experience ancient rainforest ecosystems while witnessing the frontlines of the Fairy Creek blockades on Pacheedaht Territory. The residency project and exhibitions which followed, created space for reflection within the urgent, heated atmosphere of direct action movement, and expanded the conversation around old growth protection beyond the didactic messages of activism. Participating artists explored the intersections of art, ecology, and activism, creating fertile ground for new forms of cross-disciplinary praxis. By bringing together Indigenous and settler voices, common threads emerged around the inherent value of these life giving ecosystems, and future visions were born. In this time of climate crisis, art is essential. Artists offer new perspectives and embodied experiences that can move us past paralysis and into action. Activism, like art-making, is a creative processes of actualizing visions and taking risks in order to forge new futures - futures which include standing ancient forests.
About the speakers
Kathy Code has been an avid environmentalist for the past two decades, with a deep interest in climate change, regenerative agriculture, ecoforestry, environmental economics and grassroots activism. She obtained her Masters in Environment and Management from Royal Roads University and retired as an economic development policy analyst after a 21 year career with the BC government. In 2014, she joined the board of the Ecoforestry Institute Society, owners of the Wildwood Ecoforest, where she successfully fought to keep the property in the public domain and now serves as the Vice-chair and the Communications Director. In August 2020, she joined the Fairy Creek grassroots movement to save the remaining old-growth forests in BC and has remained as a member of the legal and media teams throughout its transition to the Rainforest Flying Squad. In the latest legal chapter, she and Elder Bill, along with 13 other defendants are now being charged with conspiracy by Teal Cedar, as the company continues to cut both old and secondary growth on Pacheedaht unceded lands. Her hope is to see the transition of the free market economy into a values-driven system based on social, environmental, cultural and economic justice.
Jessie Demers is an artist, independent curator, arts administrator, educator and community organizer of British/Norwegian/Scottish ancestry living on Lekwungen territory (Victoria, British Columbia). She began her environmental activism at age 16 when she joined the Environmental Youth Alliance, and became part of the movement to protect Kaxi:ks (Walbran Valley) and Clayoquot Sound. She worked as a curator and educator at the Nelson Museum, Archives and Gallery for five years. Since 2016, she has worked as an Arts Programmer for the District of Saanich.
Demers was an early member of the Rainforest Flying Squad and the movement to save ancient forests on Pacheedaht Territory. She later stepped away from blockade organizing to curate the Eden Grove Artist in Residence Program, which brought 12 artists to the frontlines and into the forest. In October 2022 she received the Witness Legacy Award for Social Purpose and Responsibility in recognition of the residency program and following group exhibition Still Standing: Ancient Forest Futures, which ran at UVIC's Legacy Gallery in the summer of 2022. Demers holds a BFA from NSCAD University and a BEd from UBC.
Rainbow Eyes is a member of the Da'naxda'xw/Awaetlala First Nation with traditional territory of Knight Inlet. From working as a trained Land Guardian of her Nation to protecting the last of the Old Growth on Vancouver Island, at Fairy Creek, Rainbow Eyes is now caught up in the colonial court system doing the work to uphold Indigenous & Natural Laws. Since her time in the Forest Rainbow Eyes has been on "Creator Time" following Elders & making connections within the Federal Green Party which led to the position of Ooh-mah Ah-nise / Deputy Leader. She now sits on the Indigenous People's Advisory Circle of the Green Party, works with the Congress of Aboriginal People and is a voice for change in the colonial system.
Bill Jones brings a wealth of expertise in Traditional Ecological Knowledge, as living experiences and stories, narratives collected over time, and a sense of archival histories on living practices and engagement with the natural environment. Since 2018 PI Sujir has collaborated with Jones and engaged with the community in Port Renfrew screening her IMAX film “Aerial” at the Pacheedaht Community Health Centre in January 2019. William Jones, as Elder, and the Band Council then came together to add the text at the end of “Aerial” that simply speaks of the importance of the Walbran, their unceded territory.
Nancy Turner (Distinguished Professor Emerita, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria) an ethnobotanist, has worked with First Nations elders and cultural specialists in northwestern North America for over 50 years, helping to document, retain and promote their traditional knowledge of plants and environments, including Indigenous foods, materials and traditional medicines. Her two-volume award-winning book, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge (July, 2014; McGill-Queen’s University Press), integrates her long term research. She has authored or co-authored/co-edited 30 other books, including: Plants of Haida Gwaii; The Earth’s Blanket; “Keeping it Living” (with Doug Deur); Saanich Ethnobotany (with Richard Hebda), and Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples, and over 150 book chapters and papers. Her recent edited book is Plants, People and Places: the Roles of Ethnobotany and Ethnoecology in Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights in Canada and Beyond (2020). She has received a number of awards for her work, including membership in Order of British Columbia (1999) and the Order of Canada (2009), honorary degrees from University of British Columbia, University of Northern British Columbia and Vancouver Island and Simon Fraser Universities.
Rita Wong investigates the relationships between contemporary poetics, water justice, ecology, and decolonization. She has co-edited an anthology with Dorothy Christian entitled Downstream: Reimagining Water. A recipient of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writer Award, Wong is the author of beholden (with Fred Wah), undercurrent, perpetual (with Cindy Mochizuki), sybil unrest (with Larissa Lai), forage (winner of Canada Reads Poetry 2011), and monkeypuzzle. Wong works to support communities' efforts towards justice and health for water, having witnessed such work at the Peace River, the Wedzin Kwa, Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek, the Columbia River, the Fraser River, the Salish Sea, and the Arctic Ocean watershed. She understands that when these waterways are healthy, life (including people) will be healthy too, and that we cannot afford to endanger and pollute the waters that sustain our lives.
About the larger project
Thinking Allowed is organizing a series of online + in-person conversation panel talks in Spring and Summer 2023 at Concordia University’s 4th Space, in collaboration with the Canadian Filmmaker Distribution Centre (CFMDC), the Sustainability conference, and the Leadership in Environmental and Digital Innovation for Sustainability (LEADS) program at Concordia University. These panel conversations will have follow up, for a publication, and to continue the discussion, October 19 to the 21, within a variety of activities including the following: workshops at Concordia University’s 4th Space, an IMAX screening at the Montreal Science Center, and artists’ walks and a screening at the Montreal Botanical Ga
This session is part of the Elastic Spaces SSHRC Connection funded project, Thinking Allowed, which brings together a network of artists, curators, scientists, students and community members coming with expertise from different branches of knowledge – artistic, scientific and Indigenous – to address urgent issues around social justice and the environment. Using both new and traditional practices, this group of interdisciplinary and intergenerational researchers work together towards delineating the intersections among the entangled problems of climate change, forest conservation, human displacement, settler-colonialism and racism.