What is Going on at the Fairy Creek Blockade?
by Gord Ohm
It is July 8, 2021 on Lasqueti Island. I have just returned from the Fairy Creek Blockade. What is going on there? I think everyone who has visited or stayed, or has actually committed to living at one of the camps in the blockade for weeks or months, would have a different answer.
Those folks who have not attended would answer differently yet again. And a local logger would, I suspect, answer uniquely in comparison to a forest defender. A catskinner who had hammered a road into these lands and had pushed over trees to facilitate access and a landing for logging equipment, might answer differently, yet again. A tree planter who makes a living trying to restore a forest that has been harvested, yet another answer. Their father might be a faller, their uncle a forester, their sister, a committed member of the blockade, their neighbour, a police officer.
A police officer might have a different answer. One police officer was filmed arresting a naked female defender while another held a mirror toward him and asked him: What are you doing? Look at yourself. He might answer directly, what’s going on there. There are people breaking laws and he has been dispatched with a set of orders. He is at work. And he did answer directly: Just doing my job. The naked woman holding the mirror and who would be arrested next, responded: A job is a choice, my friend. I quit my job to come here. I suspect that this officer may have returned home to his family, conflicted and upset.
What is going on at the Fairy Creek Blockade?
I arrived as a part of a contingent of seventeen people from Lasqueti Island. I don’t believe that any of us had an agenda, except perhaps to learn and offer support. Even Loki, who was returning for the third time, seemed only to want to facilitate us getting there and then, simply being there. There are a few people from Lasqueti who have taken their commitment to saving the surviving old growth in the Fairy Creek drainage, to the blockade. They occasionally try to come home but only last a couple of days and then need to return. Loki, who has spent many days there previously, travelled with the intention of returning today. But, this morning, he could not leave. He had to stay.
We arrived at Headquarters yesterday and after answering a few questions were allowed through the gate. We parked, and walked past the banner Last Stand for Ancient Forest. Marlena Hale, a Wet’suwet’en activist, was speaking from beneath a tarp awning by the HQ camp kitchen. Bill Jones, a Pacheedat elder, was with her. It was his birthday party. I stood near the hereditary chief, who is eighteen. He did not make a sound.
There were supplies to be taken up the mountain to an upper camp and we volunteered for this task, also bringing our fresh vegetables and home baked cookies to the more distant sites. We passed a recently constructed healing garden and a logged off area where fifty red dresses hung from dry limbs and upturned roots. Hung from slash. The dresses represent the missing and murdered indigenous women. Nearby hung a hand painted sign: I’d rather be in an ancient forest.
We stopped at one camp and met with another of the intrepid Lasquetians, a woman who has spent weeks at the blockade. At the market here last Saturday she told me of the arrests and police tactics that she had witnessed and was left wondering what country she was in.
We took at short hike to a towering cedar tree, its oblong base measuring between 2.3 and 3 metres diameter at breast height. One of our women stood with her hand on the tree and sang what I could only describe as a hymn. Then, returning to our vehicle, we travelled, thirteen strong in the pickup, further, to a higher camp. We parked on the edge of the precipitous, narrow road and delivered more produce and some PVC pipe for a waterline from an upper stream. The camp consisted of several small tents and a well stocked pole/tarp kitchen shelter. There was a lady there with her two young children in a group of eight who sat in a circle eating a spicy Asian-style lunch. A young German woman asked me about Lasqueti and wants to bring her visiting parents here in August.
Those of us who made it to this upper camp then started up a trail which leads to a ridgecrest camp which was constructed by access on foot. The road in from the other side is apparently controlled by the police. After a short climb I stepped off the trail and away from the group in order to sit quietly on my own in the old growth. I overheard two young men talking while they were ascending the trail to the ridge camp. One voice travelled clearly: we’re not letting them cut these trees, no way.
After a while we reassembled and then drove back down in order to make the evening meeting at 5 pm. The steep logging road is bordered by cairns of rocks which maintain a width which will barely allow a half ton pickup to pass through. There are occasional signs posted along the way and at the various camps. What gives you the right to cut down trees that are older than western society? Cut the lies Mr. Horgan, not the trees. I’d rather be in an ancient forest.
We paused at the red dresses for a moment of silence and then continued to base.
The meeting formed in a circle and began with a woman leading a few minutes of QiGong exercises. There were probably sixty people present, all genders, all ages, congregated in a ceremonially decorated gravel flat near HQ. The meeting was called to order by a man with a Cat in the Hat style chapeau and then run by two women, one the chief medic, Skunk Cabbage, and the other, the apparent logistical leader of the blockade at that moment. Everyone there has a camp name, hers is Dreadred. She has striking copper coloured hair and her words are wise and sincere.
The women announced at the outset that the camp was run by decentralized leadership and that every announcement or pronouncement or instruction was subject to immediate change. That the situation there was dynamic and that every member of the blockade should always be willing to alter their action or position based on new information. The women demonstrated this concept repeatedly during the meeting, taking moments between themselves to check each other and find their collective truth. There was never an indication of defensiveness or impatience or frustration, between them.
A whiteboard, detailed with shifts which needed to be filled, was brought out and the group canvassed for volunteers to fill the positions: guards, runners, those willing to secure themselves to a ‘dragon’, a buried pipe which acts as a sleeve by which a non-violent protester can lock themselves to the earth in order to block roads from the police. Those willing to be arrested for the cause. Dreadred always spoke with a natural intensity, measured and calm, offering the various shifts, explaining their imperative, not resting until they were filled. Not until people stepped up.
It did not feel right to simply sit and watch, but our visit had come to an end. I left with a group of seven and stayed in Port Renfrew. Ten of us had left at five pm to catch a return boat to Lasqueti. Loki and Rose moved off to stay at River Camp.
So, what is going on at the Fairy Creek blockade?
In my view, a peaceful protest being conducted in order to protect an ancient forest. It is not a party or a celebration. There are no drugs or alcohol allowed on site. There are moments of levity but generally speaking, the mood there is sober. Both residents and visitors are committed to this cause.
Many young people are living in crude shelters or tents. They have set aside their lives for this purpose. Robust and committed, they are choosing to live on the land and to defend it against further destruction by logging. They are being supported by groups and individuals who send, or arrive with, food and supplies.
It is true that trees will grow back. The Vancouver Island landscape shows multiple generations of forestry, from the shaved, barren hillsides of this years logging to the towering giants of ancient old growth. In between, from re-planted seedlings to dense juvenile tree farms through to maturing second growth stands, awaiting another harvest. But there is even more at stake here than the towering firs and cedars. Fairy Creek exists as a symbol, with a message to humanity to slow down, to sit quietly and humbly in the woods and absorb the power and beauty of Mother Earth. And if necessary, stand, to defend and protect her.