By Alex Rinfret-A group of about 60 loggers and family members marched on the Ministry of Forests office in Queen Charlotte today to protest provincial forestry policies.
The marchers carried signs with slogans like “BC Timber Sales Kiss My Axe”, “Warning: BC Liberals at work. Giving away our forests. Giving away our future” and “BC Liberals drunk with power. And Campbell is at the wheel.”
The march was led by Haida Nation president Guujaaw and Port Clements mayor Dale Lore. At the top of the hill where the Ministry office sits, protesters gathered in the empty parking lot. District manager Len Munt came out to listen, but no other employees were in sight.
Logger Bernie Lepage spoke first, telling the crowd that government policies are hurting local people and communities, both native and non-native.
“If we let government get away with what they’re doing right now, we’ll be hurting even more,” he said.
Guujaaw thanked the Weyerhaeuser workers for coming out, an act which he said showed their courage and devotion to their families and to the long-term health of the islands.
“This message is from the loggers themselves,” Guujaaw said. “People who are actually still working are concerned about what’s going on, and they’re not afraid to say it.”
He said that Mr. Munt, the new district manager who moved here from Ontario less than a year ago, has little control over what happens on the islands, and that the protestors’ message is aimed at Victoria. “He’s finding he really has little ability to change things or do anything himself.”
On the apparent absence of all other ministry employees, Guujaaw added: “I don’t think it makes any difference whether they’re working today or not, they don’t actually do that much anyway.”
Mr. Munt then addressed the crowd, saying that demonstrations like this one are important and that he will deliver the islanders’ message to his higher-ups.
“I’m definitely here to listen,” he said. “I do take your voice and message down to the Tim Sheltons of the world and the Doug Konkins.”
Ministry staff were hard at work inside the office, he added, in response to Guujaaw’s comments. He had offered employees the opportunity to come in at noon to avoid the protest – which can be especially uncomfortable for those who have lived in the community for a long time and are neighbours with the protesters – but everyone had showed up for work. (Their vehicles were parked behind the building instead of out front where they could be inadvertently damaged by protesters, he said.)
Mr. Lore, the mayor of Port and a logger himself, then spoke, holding a sign that read “Where on Haida Gwaii is Chilliwack?”
The Ministry of Forests’ decision to move the administration of the small business program to Chilliwack, and amalgamate the islands with Chilliwack and Squamish as one unit, has meant the loss of 140 jobs on the islands so far, he said. Almost no local people can win contracts where work such as silviculture and road-building must be done in Chilliwack and Squamish as well as on the islands, he said.
And that’s just one issue islanders have with the Ministry of Forests. There are 60 or 70 more, Mr. Lore said, most recently the province’s decision to allow Weyerhaeuser and other forestry companies to pull their private land out of their Tree Farm Licences, which allows them to manage the private holdings any way they want.
Mr. Lore did not hold out much hope that the protest would have any effect, saying the government is not listening to rural communities. Islanders will have to keep trying to find a way to make their voice heard, he said.
He added that it is a scandal that so many local loggers are unemployed when the price of wood just went over $400. Only half the logging jobs on the islands are now held by locals, he said, less than 10 years ago. The situation is great for the boarding houses and bed and breakfasts which accommodate all the workers who fly in, he said, but not for anyone else on the islands.
“We all live on the same reservation here,” he said. “The one thing they forgot is you can’t divide and conquer if you treat everybody like crap.”
The quiet protest lasted less than an hour, and ended with a round of applause for Mr. Munt for coming out and listening to the concerns. But organizers – who call their group the Communities Action Network – said there will be a second phase.
The protesters left their signs outside the ministry office as a statement, after a brief discussion of how to retrieve them. (The signs are needed both for phase two, apparently, and because the stakes holding them up are from Mrs. Lepage’s garden.) The dilemma was solved by Mr. Munt, who offered to gather them up at the end of the day, put them in his truck, and bring them back.
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