|by Jessica Bell|
|Published on: Jul 3, 2005|
|This is a story about local communities regaining control over global multinational corporations and the world's powerful elite. This is a story about the resurgence of sustainability. And this is a story about victory.
I visited Haida Gwaii, an island off Canada's west coast, in March 2005 after our organization, the Rainforest Action Network, received reports that the community had effectively shut down the island's logging operations by setting up round-the-clock blockades on the island's main logging roads.
This action was organized by the Haida First Nations indigenous community in response to one corporation, logging company, Weyerhaeuser, selling its rights to unsustainably log their island to other corporation, Brascan. The Haida felt the sale was in direct violation of a previous landmark legal victory of theirs, which required the government of British Columbia - the entity responsible for managing logging rights on their island - to consult and accommodate their needs.
"Enough was enough" basically, and the Haida set about taking the next step in the long struggle to regain what they have always felt was rightfully theirs.
Since white people arrived in 1776, the Haida have been under siege. In the 1880s, their population declined to 90 percent of its original number of about 7000 as a result of small pox, venereal diseases, and other maladies, such as alcoholism. Settlers and church missionaries have spent the last two centuries undermining the culture of the Haida people, banning customs, such as the building of totem poles, medicine men and large communal feasts, and forcing a modern day industrial-society lifestyle that denied the Haida's connection with the sea, the forests and the land.
Today, the Haida's future is also threatened by corporate logging. With an underemployment rate of over 60 percent, younger generations are living the misty island for the large cities of Prince Rupert and Vancouver. Both Weyerhaeuser and the Province of British Columbia have failed to respect the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the island community by consistently over-logging, prioritizing high-value old growth and reducing island employment by favoring logging with automated machinery and exporting the logs for processing. This process converts culturally, spiritually and ecologically valuable ecosystems that sustained life for thousands of years into 2 by 4s, decking and siding. It's estimated that over $30 billion worth of wood has left the island. The vast majority of that money does not go towards providing Haida Gwaii with better schools, health care or sustainable economic development opportunities, but to line the pockets of Weyerhaeuser's executives who live in exclusive suburbs around Seattle. Weyerhaeuser's Chief Executive Officer, Steve Rogel, earns over $6 million a year.
This is a tale that has parallels with the struggle of indigenous people around the world, from the Australian Aborigines to the 600 First Nations communities in the Canadian Boreal.
The day I arrived on Haida Gwaii, I walked to the blockade site, anticipating melee of angry loggers, violent police and screaming staunch activists. Instead, I found a group of 10 or so people eating cake. A few Haida were whittling away on the tree they call the "tree of life" or the western red cedar, creating art objects. The two policeman present were standing around drinking tea, and some loggers were staffing the blockade, stopping and identifying cars that were driving up to the line.
I was floored. This was the first time I had witnessed a community that, on the whole, was actively working towards a goal of adopting locally controlled democratic and sustainable economic practices - a testament to years and years of organizing, a persistent inclusive message and a small population. (There is less people to convince.) Of course, the island's residents have differences of opinion, and many are worried about how things might change if the Haida succeeds in winning its legal fight for title and thus securing the right to co-manage the island. But the trenchant ideological divide between first nations communities, environmentalists and loggers - a false dichotomy that is deliberately created and manufactured by the very corporations who blame environmentalists for job losses - is less noticeable here.
Bernie Lepage, a local logging contractor and chairman of the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada summarized it neatly when he said, "We are out of a job if the logging is not sustainable." The understanding that everyone benefits in the long-run from a sustainable locally controlled island comes, in part, from the fact that many of the island's residents are committed to the region, and they want their future generations to stay here as well.
It's an idea that should be applied to a global context. One hopes that the very corporations that are cutting and running across our globe - from the temperate forests in the United States, to the rainforests of Borneo, to the sweatshops of Cambodia, India and China - will begin to understand that we too are inhabiting a fragile island with vulnerabilities and breaking points.
Randy Hayes founded the organization I work for, the Rainforest Action Network, after completing a documentary on coal and uranium mining on the Colorado plateau and its effects on the Hopi American Indians. When he asked the indigenous community what he could do to help them, they said, "get your foot off our throat." "And whose foot is really on the throat of the rain forest? It's London, it's Tokyo, it's the U.S," says Randy Hayes.
It's every person that chooses to buy goods and services - from oil to paper - from U.S.-based multinational corporations. Ford, Wells Fargo and Weyerhaeuser executives are making billions by logging and mining within precious ecosystems and destroying local communities to meet exponentially increasing consumer demand in Japan, China, Europe and North America.
As an organizer working within the United States, my coworkers and I brought the Haida's message to the North American public, organizing high profile demonstrations in Toronto, New York and Weyerhaeuser's home town of Seattle. Our goal was to educate consumers about the impact of their purchasing decisions so that when they buy Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir and Hemlock, or anything they truly don't need, they realize they are an ingredient in a system that is destroying our hope for a sustainable future.
We attended Weyerhaeuser's annual general meeting in April 2005. I met the shareholders who control this company - rich, white, conservative balding American men who spend their lives indoors in meetings making decisions that benefit their bottom line yet impact the lives of all. People sat silently and uncomfortably in their seats as activist after activist, from Steelworkers, to environmentalists, to human rights advocates and first nations communities, stood up demanded change, demanded that these people give something up.
The day after Weyerhaeuser's annual general meeting, on April 22, 2005 the Government of British Columbia agreed to protect 40,000 acres of land that the Haida deem important. It's also expected that over time islanders will see a significant drop in the amount of wood that is allowed to be logged on the island, greater economic control over the island's operations, a cessation of bear hunting on the island and a move toward eco-forestry.
It's one step in a series of many that the Haida are taking to reclaim their island. Says Haida Spokesperson, Gilbert Parnell, "We've had a responsibility towards Haida Gwaii and we're never going to give up that responsibility, and we're never going to be assimilated so that we're a culture no more. We're not going anywhere; even though people had plans to get rid of us, we're getting stronger all the time. The writing is on the wall. Change is in the air; it's going to happen."
The Haida Nation is one of many communities struggling to maintain their unique identity and sustainable way of life in the face of ruthless corporate-controlled capitalist interests. RAN supports these communities by running boycott campaigns against some of the world's largest companies, including Weyerhaeuser.
Boycott Western Red Cedar. Weyerhaeuser might not be logging on this island; but they're distributing the products that are logged by its replacement, Island Forest Products. Boycott Weyerhaeuser Western Red Cedar; it goes under the heading of CedarOne.
Boycott Xerox. RAN has discovered that Xerox is buying its paper from two Weyerhaeuser mills which are sourcing their wood from two Canadian boreal regions that contain endangered forests, are ecologically important and whose logging is being opposed by indigenous first nations, including the Mishkeegogamang/Saugeen First Nations community.
Please support these communities by organizing solidarity demonstrations at stores that sells Xerox products, such as Costco and Office Max, and passing an endangered forest policy at a university that has business ties with Xerox. University of California, University of Arizona and Yale University all have ties with Xerox. For more information please go to www.wakeupweyco.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org 415 398 4404.
For information on the struggle to protect Haida Gwaii go to:
For more information on indigenous struggles in Canada go to: