Tension is rising between Canadian police and activists who have been staging a months-long anti-logging resistance in Vancouver Island’s ancient forests. The protest has been underway for two years, led by environmental and First Nations activists, and is considered to be Canada’s largest act of civil disobedience ever. Canadian authorities have arrested nearly 1,000 people at Fairy Creek in British Columbia, and the protests show no sign of slowing down. “We have a long history of asserting ourselves as coastal people, where our inherent right is not only based in our relationship to our communities but is based on our relationship and our legal systems and with the land,” says Kati George-Jim, a Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth woman who joined the blockade in September 2020 and has been arrested numerous times. “The police have no jurisdiction, and industry doesn’t have jurisdiction, on stolen land,” she says. We also speak with lawyer Noah Ross, who says police have used excessive violence to break up protests. “There’s been many, many instances where people of color have been specifically targeted,” says Ross.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
As the world faces a climate emergency, we turn now to Canada, which had the hottest summer in its history this year. Wildfires burned across the West Coast, from California to British Columbia, where a record-breaking heat dome killed at least 800 people in a single week. Climate change policy has become a central issue in the lead-up to next week’s Canadian federal election.
Meanwhile, tension is rising between police and environmental and First Nations activists who are staging a months-long anti-logging resistance to protect the ancient forests of Vancouver Island, which is just off the coast of Vancouver, north of Washington state and Seattle. The protest has been underway for two years. It’s now one of Canada’s largest acts of civil disobedience. Land defenders with the Fairy Creek blockade are calling on others to join them to save the remaining trees, which are hundreds of years old, with some estimated to be more than a thousand years old, among the oldest on the planet.
LAND DEFENDER: Not only is it really important to protect these trees currently, but — from industry coming in, invading unceded territories on Pacheedaht and Ditidaht land, where they’re stealing natural resources from Indigenous people, but we also need it for the old growth, because they have the most water intake that they can hold, that actually helps climate change and prevent forest fires. And we need that more than ever right now.
AMY GOODMAN: As the Fairy Creek blockade has grown in the past four months, Canadian police have arrested nearly 1,000 activists, often beating and pepper-spraying the land defenders. Police are now in court pushing for greater enforcement powers of an injunction that bans blockades in the area.
For more, we’re going to Victoria, British Columbia, and we’re going to Kati George-Jim, an Indigenous land defender who joined the Fairy Creek blockade last September, has been arrested numerous times.
Welcome to Democracy Now! And, Kati, I was wondering if you can start off — I just didn’t want to mispronounce your given name — by talking about your matrilineal and patrilineal lineages and how that informs what you’re doing, why you’re there at the Fairy Creek blockade.
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Yeah. Good morning. ‘Uy’ skweyul. My given name is xʷ is xʷ čaa. And on my matrilineal side, I come from Tsuk, Pacheedaht and Lekwungen territories, which is located on what is now known as Southern Vancouver Island. And on my patrilineal side, I’m related to W̱SÁNEĆ and Penelakut territories, and both of those are Coast Salish, and, on my mother’s side, related to Nuu-chah-nulth territories, where Fairy Creek blockade is taking place, which is considered Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of the island. And that recognition and acknowledgment, as well as the practice of introducing yourself in that way, calls forth that responsibility to the territories where your ancestors have taken care and related to those territories. And so, that’s no different today for the land where the blockade is taking place.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kati, you have said that this is not just an issue of saving the trees, but it is also an issue of the inherent rights of Indigenous people. Could you talk about that further?
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Yeah. On the coast, we have a long history of asserting ourselves as coastal people, where our inherent right is not only based in our relationship to our communities but is based on our relationship and our legal systems and with the land. And so, this type of worldview and this type of framework of society is, from my perspective, what will inform the type of climate action and the necessary political action to have a future worth protecting.
And so, when we talk about the trees or when we talk about environmentalism, often we leave out the intricacies and the complexities of what it means to address settler colonialism, what it means to address racism and all of the systemic and structural issues that we face as Indigenous people who have been targeted since the occupation of the British crown and the Canadian state in unceded, unsurrendered Indigenous territories.
And so, how that relates to sovereignty or inherent rights as Indigenous people is that it’s not only an assertion of that right when we talk about what the decision-making process is for the people and the land, but also what we’re fighting for is the future generations and our past ancestral relationships to those places. And so, our Indigenous laws here are place-based. Our knowledge systems and legal systems and societal and economic systems are also based within that understanding of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Kati —
KATI GEORGE-JIM: And so, for me —
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead.
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Yeah. No, for me, it’s that time is relative, and we, at this point, also have to carry forward those laws and be informed by that action.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the end of May, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested several land defenders protesting the logging of the old-growth forests at the Caycuse Camp. One of those arrested was you, Kati George-Jim. You can be heard in this video saying, “I cannot breathe.”
KATI GEORGE-JIM: I cannot breathe!
LAND DEFENDER: You get on the ground.
RCMP OFFICER: Get down on the ground.
KATI GEORGE-JIM: I cannot [bleep] breathe! Do not touch me.
LAND DEFENDER: Hey, let go of her! Right now!
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Do not touch me!
LAND DEFENDER: Let go of her.
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Do you see this type of violence that’s being used [inaudible]?
LAND DEFENDER: Let go of her now!
RCMP OFFICER: Get down on the ground, buddy.
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Let go.
LAND DEFENDER: You get down on the ground!
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Do you see what you’re doing here?
RCMP OFFICER: Get down on the ground. You’re under arrest for obstruction.
LAND DEFENDER: You are obstructing me.
KATI GEORGE-JIM: We are not obstructing justice!
LAND DEFENDER: I have not obstructed anyone!
KATI GEORGE-JIM: We are here. We are not obstructing any justice. We are not breaking any injunction zone.
LAND DEFENDER: How do you know I’ve obstructed anybody?
RCMP OFFICER: You’re obstructing us.
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Tell us our rights now!
AMY GOODMAN: So, Kati George-Jim, if you can describe that scene, but also the entire blockade, for people who aren’t even familiar with what might be the largest civil disobedience in Canadian history? How is it organized? How are people sleeping, eating? What are the community spaces? Is this similar, for example, to the mass protests in North Dakota in 2016, the protest against the building of DAPL, the Dakota Access pipeline?
KATI GEORGE-JIM: Yeah. Well, I actually haven’t heard that clip for a really long time. And that was at the beginning of enforcement on the unceded territory of the Ditidaht, Nitinaht people in Nuu-chah-nulth territories. And that’s not my direct lineage or ancestral territory, but, as a sovereign Indigenous person, I believe that’s what I was also talking a lot about in that clip while I was being forcibly removed from Indigenous land, was that the RCMP had no jurisdiction on stolen land, the police have no jurisdiction, and industry doesn’t have restriction, on stolen land.
And within that, we also talk about the jurisdiction of the province or the federal government. And for those that are unfamiliar, within Canada, Canada is a constitutional monarchy, where the federal government, for instance, is technically obligated to interface with what is known as Indian bands. And those are still today used to segregate and oppress Indigenous people within their own lands, whether it’s on the reserves or within the foster care system, which has previously been compared to the residential school system it is a continuation of.
And so, when we talk about what is happening at Fairy Creek, when we talk about these arrests, we can’t forget to talk about the history that has and will continue to inform these types of civil disobedience, these types of direct action that is being taken to protect the land from industries, like Teal-Jones, from colonial governments, like the BC NDP and the federal liberals. We talk about what folks, as settler people, but also Indigenous people and Black and other people of color within communities, are willing to go through to be in relationship to the land.
And with Fairy Creek, a lot of the communities, whether that is the community that is present at a blockade or Indigenous communities that are surrounding the territory, it is actually quite — it’s very high tension. It is a very politically strained situation, where communities of loggers or communities of Indigenous families that are stuck in mutual benefit agreements or revenue-sharing agreements — and then we have Indigenous community members and families like myself and my relations who are also showing up at these blockades. And with settler people, specifically white settler people, who have no concept or understanding of those complexities, it makes it an interesting, to say the very least, type of dynamic that you enter in. And so, at a community camp —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kati, if we can, I want to bring in Noah Ross, who’s an attorney representing many of the land defenders at Fairy Creek. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Noah. I wanted to ask you: Could you talk about the British Columbia Supreme Court injunction against the protesters on Vancouver Island? What powers does it grant the logging company involved here, Teal-Jones Group?
NOAH ROSS: Yes, hello. Thank you, Juan. And yeah, I’m honored to be on the show and to be on with you, Kati.
So, the injunction that was granted to Teal-Jones, prohibits the blocking of logging activities within a large area of several hundred square kilometers in Southern — what’s now known as Southern Vancouver Island. It doesn’t prohibit people from being there. It just prohibits blocking logging.
So, there have been — yeah, as Kati has been talking about, there’s been — hundreds or thousands of people have been trying to stop that logging from taking place. But it doesn’t prohibit people from being there. So there’s been a kind of ongoing battle waged on a variety of fronts between the RCMP, who have been trying to keep land defenders out of the area to try to quell resistance.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the tactics used by the police, and especially the Mounties, in terms of the protesters?
NOAH ROSS: Yeah, it’s been hugely concerning from the legal perspective. There has been — you know, like I said, people have the right to peacefully protest, but — and the police, ostensibly, should just be arresting people who are violating the injunction by blocking logging activities, but they’ve gone beyond that. There’s been targeting of BIPOC, Indigenous people. Like in the clip you showed of Kati, I think there’s been many, many instances where people of color have been specifically targeted.
Also, the RCMP have been using exclusion zones, which is something that was also used against Wet’suwet’en land defenders last year. And that’s where they just block access on a logging road to sometimes hundreds of kilometers of further logging road and all the territory that’s behind that. So, people then need to hike around or face arrest for trying to walk through.
There’s been a lot of violence used against people that are defending — like, that are nonviolently attaching themselves to the road or to tripods with sleeping — or with sleeping dragons. And —
AMY GOODMAN: Noah, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we will continue to cover this issue. Noah Ross, attorney for land defenders at Fairy Creek blockade. And Kati George-Jim, Indigenous land defender. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.