Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Saik'uz First Nation has given notice: There will be no more industrial forestry development without the Nation’s consent in its unceded and unsurrendered territory in central British Columbia.
“Today we are announcing that these practices will no longer take place in our territory. We further announce that the province of BC and forest licensees must obtain our free, prior and informed consent before proceeding with any forestry or other resource development in Saik'uz territory,” said Chief Priscilla Mueller in a Facebook news conference Oct. 15.
She said they are delivering a forest resource declaration.
“(This is) a day that our members and Elders have advocated for a very, very long time. We view the duty to protect the forests, water ways and the land in our territory as sacred responsibility passed down to us by our ancestors,” she said.
There is a “sense of urgency,” said Councillor Jasmine Thomas, that is not reflected in the actions of Premier John Horgan even though he has said that old growth must be respected as must Indigenous peoples’ land management rights in their territories.
It sounds promising, said Thomas, but too many promises have not been followed by action.
“There are solutions and opportunities ahead of us so that we can collectively work towards new beginnings and outgrow old ways of doing business as usual,” said Thomas.
She outlined the three points of the forest resource declaration.
- The province must agree to immediate interim protective measures in areas of the Saik'uz territory until the province, Saik’uz and other Carrier Sekani Nations have concluded a resource management planning process.
- Provincial forestry licensees must obtain free, prior and informed consent of Saik'uz Nation before proceeding with any forestry activities in the territory.
- Saik'uz Nation and the province must immediately co-develop rehabilitation and restoration projects in Saik'uz territory to address “the unjustified infringements of our Aboriginal title and rights that have occurred as a result of industrial forestry activities that have preceded in our territory without our consent and against our strenuous objections.”
Thomas became emotional when she talked about the devastation of the land and the difficulty she and her grandmother had in gathering medicinal plants. She said she would be unable to pass down this traditional knowledge to her one-year-old daughter if forestry development continued unchecked.
“The health of our people is also a reflection of the land and they are both struggling for their literal survival,” she said.
“I need a land base to exercise my rights as an Indigenous woman who has a responsibility and direct relationship with the land. We can’t move forward on a path that might not exist in my daughter’s lifetime or even mine.”
Mueller said Saik'uz Nation will be seeking meetings with provincial leaders and political staff in the near future “with the purpose of ensuring that everyone knows how things will be done in our territory.”
She said the new declaration would also be shared with industry and other partners.
“Starting today things in our territory will be done our way. The right way. The best traditions of the past combined with the best of forest and resource management practises of today,” said Mueller.
The news conference also included the debut of Old Growth, New Beginnings, an approximately 10-minute film that showed the devastation of clear cutting on the territory and the frustration of advice from Saik'uz members being ignored by the forestry industry.