“A colossal battle to save the last temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island, Canada, is under way, as police and forest protectors are engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase through hundreds of kilometres of thick woods,” Brandi Morin wrote earlier this summer for Al Jazeera English. Since then, the battle in British Columbia has only gotten more intense as Indigenous land protectors and non-Indigenous activists put their bodies on the line to defend the ancient rainforest in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran areas, facing arrest and forced removal by Canadian police.
In this segment of The Marc Steiner Show, Marc speaks with Morin about what she’s seen on the ground covering this crucial struggle to preserve unceded First Nations land from the onslaught of settler-colonial violence and the environmentally destructive logging industry. Brandi Morin is an award-winning French/Cree/Iroquois journalist from Treaty 6 territory in Alberta, Canada. Her work has appeared in numerous outlets, including Al Jazeera English, The Guardian, The National Observer, The New York Times, Vice Canada, and CBC Indigenous.
Tune in for new episodes of The Marc Steiner Show every Tuesday and Friday on TRNN.
Pre-Production/Studio/Post Production: Stephen Frank
Marc Steiner: Welcome to the Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, and it’s great to have you all with us. Now, I know that most of us have not heard of Fairy Creek, or the Pacheedaht First Nation, or a company called Teal-Jones, or the fact that since August 2020, Indigenous people and their political allies have been trying to stop that company from cutting down the last of the old-growth forest in British Columbia that fuels a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s a struggle where thousands have been arrested, and police violence against protesters, beating protesters, and literally pulling people out of trees by helicopters, has been heavy and intense. And in the midst of all of this, the British Columbia government, run by a left wing party called the New Democratic Party, seems to be allowing this to happen.
Now, I was made aware of this because of a dear friend’s daughter who’s been in the midst of this struggle. So I’ve been in touch with Indigenous leaders and their allies, mostly white activists, and we’ll be hearing from them in the coming weeks. But today we hear what’s happening on the ground from a journalist, Brandi Morin. She’s a French/Cree/Iroquois journalist from Treaty 6 in Alberta, Canada, and she’s been covering injustice, human rights, environment, culture, tradition, and resilience from an Indigenous point of view. She writes for Al Jazeera and many other publications, and joins us here today on the Marc Steiner Show at The Real News. So, Brandi, welcome to the program. It’s good to have you with us. I’m glad you could find time to join us.
Brandi Morin: Hay-hay [Plains Cree for “thank you”]. Thank you for having me, Marc.
Marc Steiner: So you just got back home from Fairy Creek, is that right?
Brandi Morin: Yeah, I got home Saturday night. I was out there for just over a week.
Marc Steiner: So let’s take a step backwards. I mean, I tried to cover some of it in the introduction, but I think that for you to give us a perspective on exactly… Before we talk about what you’ve seen, and what you think is going on, and we get into the politics of this as well. The background to this, I mean, most people think of British Columbia as this place of millions of acres of pristine land and rainforest untouched, but that’s far from the truth. And that’s why what’s happening now on Indigenous land in Fairy Creek is at the center of a struggle for all of us.
Brandi Morin: Oh, absolutely. I mean, first off, I just want to point out that, yes, it is unceded territory. These lands in BC were never ceded to the British Crown, and there is… What’s going on out there in regards to the governments, and the industry, and the RCMP enacting these injunctions is illegal when it comes down to it. So it’s absolutely stunning territories out there. This temperate rainforest is really the only one of its kind in the world, and there’s just a small section of it left, and from what I understand, once it’s cut down it takes over 100 years to grow back, but even then it will never be the same. These ecosystems that have been created over hundreds and thousands of years will be completely destroyed. And that is the case with I believe about 98% of the rest of Vancouver Island, where logging has completely devastated the forest there.
Marc Steiner: So let me ask two things from what you just said, just so our people who are listening to us and don’t live in Canada understand what you mean. One, you said this is unceded territory, and I think that’s a huge thing to understand in terms of the government in British Columbia not actually being legally in control, even though they do control, what all that means. Let’s just start there, explain what that means.
Brandi Morin: In Canada, there are treaties that were made with the First Nations upon Confederation, and that is the case in the majority of the provinces. When the expansion of the Canadian State started moving westward, they stopped making these treaties with the nations, and British Columbia just remained unceded, and the Crown kind of just went in without making these legal agreements. So it’s very… This lawlessness, so to speak, has been going on for decades, and the Canadian government has been scrambling in the past couple of decades to try and fix these problems through modern treaties.
And there are many First Nations in BC that are working with the governments to establish these treaties, and there are many that don’t want to even go there, that they don’t even want to have those discussions. They just want to start enacting their traditional rights and their laws as Indigenous nations. So in these territories, when it’s unceded, it means that there was never any control over the rights and title to these lands given to the state.
Marc Steiner: And when you said RCMP, we’re talking about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is the national police of Canada, that has this kind of glowing reputation internationally as these dashing young men in red suits who defend democracy.
Brandi Morin: Mm. Well, it depends. They defend the interest of the colonial state and the interest of the settlers. So the RCMP was established in Canada, literally, to police the Indigenous people, to clear the plains of the Indian Problem, and the RCMP were the organization that removed First Nations children from their homes, from their families, to take them to attend residential schools. They are the organization that continues to oppress, and arrest, and imprison Indigenous peoples. So there’s a long, very distraught history as it is between the RCMP and Native communities here.
Marc Steiner: So let’s take a step backwards here and talk a bit about what’s actually happened, and what’s going on here with Fairy Creek. From what I read, there are only 2.7% of these old-growth forests left, or as Bill Jones and others have said, the old-growth of our ancestors has 2.7% left. And so there’s this company called Teal-Jones that is going in to clear cut that forest, and in some ways it’s confusion about what tribal band governments were doing, and Indigenous people saying no. So talk a bit about the background to this, and how this began, and what exactly happened.
Brandi Morin: Yeah. Okay. So I know that this has been going on for two years, where Teal-Jones received their permits to go in and start logging this Fairy Creek watershed, Fairy Creek forest. And it was initially settler people, so non-Indigenous people, that took notice and came in to start to do the blockades. And from what I understand from what Bill told me is that he was approached by them, because he lived on the reservation, and he’s a residential school survivor himself, and was approached and told that this was going on, because he’s a community member. He’s not in the colonial-elected Indian Act leadership that the elected chief and council do there. He’s a traditional elder. And he was told that this was going on, and so he came on board with protecting and standing up for these forests, these sacred territories of his ancestors.
So there are these dynamics within the traditional people and the elected leadership. So you got to understand, in these communities, the Canadian government under the Indian Act put in a European governance system, and it was a chief and council system, an elected system, which was not the traditional governance system of the different Indigenous nations. A lot of people believe that that isn’t… They’re accountable to the government and under the Indian Act, and so a lot of traditional Native people believe that they don’t really have a say over traditional Indian lands, but there are those conflicts within these communities. So I did also meet with the Pacheedaht elected chief. His name is Jeff Jones, and he’s related distantly to Bill Jones. And there’s rumors that go around that Jeff is sold out to Teal-Jones, and that he goes golfing with the premier of BC, and that they’re all, like you said, in cahoots with each other over this.
I did meet with Jeff. He was reluctant to talk. This is very… A volatile subject that’s been happening in his territories. He doesn’t really speak out a whole lot. He doesn’t even go to where the protesters are. In fact, he and his counsel have asked them to leave on several occasions, the non-Native people there protesting in their territories. He basically told me this is the first time that they as Pacheedaht have had any say in what happens on their lands, because even just 20, 30 years ago, they had no say. The governments and the industries came in, just took, and our people were living under a lot of oppression.
And so he said we’re taking advantage of this, that we can even have a say. And there was a two year deferral that was recently put in place by the affected First Nations, and they are coming together to decide as community members how they want to move forward with the old-growth forest, and logging, and what to do sustainably there. But that deferral did not include the areas that are being protested right now in the Fairy Creek area. And so, from what he told me was that they’re taking part in and supporting the logging because of economics. That’s their number one line. They’re a very poor community.
There’s a lot of First Nations here in Canada that are struggling with poverty and a ton of other adversity, and you go, and Pacheedaht is a third world country. There is just explicit poverty everywhere you look there. And it’s such a contrast, because you have this First Nations community, and then the beauty of the forest, and the breathtaking ocean, and the industry, and the province, and everybody who’s making money off of all this rich territory and rich resources. And then you have this little segregated reservation who’s suffering. And it’s just really difficult to see, but it’s also a microcosm of the bigger picture, like you said, of really what’s happening to a lot of Indigenous communities.
And also, like you said, Bill, Elder Bill Jones, he told me, what you see happening here at Fairy Creek, what you see with the forest being devastated, what you see with the land defenders, what you see with the violence and the RCMP. He said, it’s coming to you as well.
Marc Steiner: And to you, is the larger population of people what he’s talking about?
Brandi Morin: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Marc Steiner: Right. I mean, what we see that happens to Indigenous people, and what we see happening to Black folks and others is just a harbinger of what would happen [crosstalk].
Brandi Morin: But I tell you, out there, those people in the front lines, the majority of them are non-Native.
Marc Steiner: Yeah, Let’s talk about… So that’s interesting. You described them as settlers.
Brandi Morin: Yes.
Marc Steiner: Which is something… A term they don’t use in the United States very much, but it’s interesting that I’ve seen that or heard that used in terms of Palestine and Israel.
Brandi Morin: Oh.
Marc Steiner: I’ve heard it in terms in Canada, but very few places do I hear people use the word settler describing white folks, whether they be allies or enemies coming in.
Brandi Morin: Yeah. Yeah.
Marc Steiner: So that’s interesting.
Brandi Morin: Yeah. It’s pretty common nowadays, I guess, to use that. Yeah.
Marc Steiner: Yeah, yeah. In Canada. Which [inaudible]. So it will probably spread, but it’s interesting. So talk a bit about what’s going on, because you… Exactly what’s happening. before we began our conversation together, you told me you were… It, really not just intellectually, but emotionally, really had a hard time getting through what you saw and experienced. I mean the violence and everything else that’s going on. Talk a bit about that. Talk about what exactly what is going on so people who are listening just understand it.
Brandi Morin: Yeah. Okay. So in April, the company, Teal-Jones, got a court-ordered injunction against the blockaders so that they could go in and start doing their work, because the people are blocking the access to be able to get in to do the logging at various different locations. So it’s not just one little road into Fairy Creek, there are literal blockades all throughout this forest that it takes two, three hours to drive in and around, and a lot of these you have to hike into. It’s a literal war in the woods. So the police began enforcing this injunction in April, and to date, they’ve arrested over 1,000 land defenders, and it’s been called the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
And so just last month in September, Teal-Jones went before a BC court to ask for their injunction to be renewed, and that was denied by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. And so Teal-Jones went back again with their lawyers, and they were just granted a temporary injunction while their appeal goes back to court for the injunction to be permanently reinstated. So the RCMP, there was not really any arrest for a few weeks, but then they started enforcing when I went back there last week. So I went there with an award winning filmmaker from Al Jazeera English, and he travels to war zones and makes mini documentaries in war zones all around the world. So this was kind of like, light to him.
So we went in there, and the idea was to do a story from the Indigenous perspective, and capture some of the action that was happening on the ground with the police. Well, we came in. The first day, the police were in there with their troops, tactical units. The land defenders call them the greens and the blues. The next day, their enforcement started to happen. So there was this one blockade that the land defenders had made. And they called it a beaver dam, and it was on this log road, and it was probably logs and different stuff that they had stacked up across this road, probably at least 10 feet high.
So it was a barricade, and they were behind it, and they had people in and under the logs in what’s called sleeping dragons. So, sleeping dragons are devices that you can put your arm in and lock into, whether it’s a pipe or cement, and it’s more difficult for police to remove them from those areas. There was also a car underneath all of these logs, and inside the car were two Indigenous land defenders. Now, the majority of the people there working to protect this forest are non-Native. There’s hundreds of mostly youth, young middle class, some I’d say wealthy youth, from all walks of life, and there’s even so many seniors there. It’s incredible to see this array of people and characters that have been camping out there for weeks at a time.
So these were two of the rare, actual Indigenous land defenders that are on the frontline. I’d say there’s maybe about a dozen or so altogether. That first day, the police were chainsawing through the logs to dismantle it, to dismantle the blockade, and started enforcing this injunction. So they got down to this car where these two Indigenous land defenders were. I had interviewed them prior, and they were young, very young. One of the girls was Pacheedaht, so that was her traditional territories. They got down to the car. They slashed all the tires. They smashed the windows, and then they removed her and another girl that she was attached to via a dragon, a sleeping dragon. They removed them, put them on the ground, and then there were probably a dozen cops around there, a highly intense situation.
There’s people yelling. There’s people screaming. It’s… You’re on a mountain. You’re in an area with no cell service. So they started… They held them down on the ground, and they started trying to remove their arms from these dragons, and they were in distress, and so the one young Pacheedaht girl started screaming, and she was in distress. And the RCMP wouldn’t let us get close enough as media to really see what was going on, if she was being hurt or what. So we were just witnessing this.
Anyways, by the time she was free, she had lost consciousness. Now, at that time, the RCMP, they had a medic there with them. They were checking her pulse and things, but they were telling her she was faking it. They dragged her. They lifted her to the vehicle, and it looked as if she wasn’t breathing. And later the next day, I did find her, and interviewed her to find out from her own mouth that she did pass out, that she wasn’t breathing.
So me witnessing that trauma was really heavy, because not only witnessing the RCMP that has this history and ongoing violence against Indigenous people, seeing that, removing her from her own lands. And we also have a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in this country, which the RCMP have been named complacent in with a national inquiry. I felt all of it very deeply, and then just the ongoing days, witnessing the RCMP violently arrest women, push them to the ground, into the gravel. I mean, it’s just totally completely uncalled for. And the way they treated me as a member of the media. I’m an established journalist. I’ve been doing this for a long time.
There were helicopters hovering above me, drones following me. It was like warfare going on out there, and I was impacted. I was traumatized. I did not sleep the whole week I was there, I had to take some sleeping pills. When I got home, I was continually crying, shaking. It was horrible. It was just, when you’re telling these stories as an Indigenous person and journalist, it’s a different kind of impact that you have. And so I was personally, yes, I was personally emotionally affected by it.
Marc Steiner: I just imagine that you were, and had to live through this. I’ve read and seen pictures of people being taken out of trees by helicopters, and people being physically attacked and beaten by the RCMP.
Brandi Morin: I’ve seen it firsthand. There’s nobody to hold them accountable. The RCMP are really not accountable to anybody. Yes, it’s great to have media there, and there needs to be more media there to show the public that this is going on, but I honestly believe someone is going to die up there.
Marc Steiner: It’s that intense?
Brandi Morin: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It is. It’s insane. And the RCMP are stressed out. I witnessed them stressed out. Their communication isn’t the best with each other. It’s a cat and mouse chase, literally. I interviewed Indigenous land defenders who told me stories about how they will go with a group of people and hike in the bush in the middle of the night up a mountain. We’re talking, this is a thick brush mountain, and they’re personally running from police and drones. What if somebody stepped out of line? Anything could happen. This has happened in Canada before. We’ve had other situations where people have been hurt and shot in these so-called protests.
Marc Steiner: So one of the things that I want to kind of understand here just for our listeners as well is what is the politics behind some of this? Which is kind of interesting. You’ve seen the legal battles between the company that wants to do the exploitation itself, Teal-Jones, but it’s also you have in charge of British Columbia at the moment, the New Democratic Party, NDP, which is supposed to be a left-leaning government for the people, but seems to be… And you can dissuade our listeners of this and me as well – But seem to be in cahoots with Teal-Jones, allowing this to happen. And even though when the premier ran for office, he promised this wouldn’t happen, yet it did happen. So…
Brandi Morin: I mean, his track record since he’s been in power has proven where his allyship is. This is not just going on in the Fairy Creek conflict. This is going on further in Northern BC, in the Wetʼsuwetʼen crisis, where there is a coastal gas link pipeline that is going through Wetʼsuwetʼen territories. And that is a major conflict that has literally shut Canada down a couple of years ago, and he has stood behind the companies and the economic benefits. And I mean, I’ve reported up there a lot too, and honestly, I met personally with elected chiefs along the pipeline route who told me firsthand they were literally backed into corners by the province to sign these deals, these mutual benefit agreements, saying, if you don’t sign this, it’s going to happen anyway. Left with no choice with those pressures, because…
And things up in Wetʼsuwetʼen territory are heating up now again. And you’re going to still, you’re going to keep seeing these uprisings happening, especially when it involves Indigenous lands. And Indigenous peoples hold those special types of rights and responsibilities to lands. And it’s Indigenous peoples that are going to be at the forefront of protecting our earth, where we are right now, and that’s what you’re going to be seeing. So it’s a responsibility, and it’s inherent to who they are, and our time and place in this era.
Marc Steiner: The thing about where this may all go from here, because it’s been taken to court, there’s been an injunction to allow the protesters to be there, another injunction saying they now have to leave. It’s been going back and forth inside the courts. This is far from over, clearly.
Brandi Morin: Mm. Yeah. I mean, everybody that I’ve spoken to there, honestly, some of them said they’re there till the death. They have given up… Those people on those front lines, they have left their jobs. There’s nurses there. There’s scientists there. There’s homeless people there. There’s people from all walks of life that have united to be there for this cause, and they’re there for the long haul. And who’s to know what’s going to happen, but I’d be surprised if this injunction is renewed on Nov.15, because of the reasons why the judge did not renew it in the first place. Because he was concerned about the reputation of the courts, because of the way the RCMP is acting.
Marc Steiner: [crosstalk] That was shocking. When I read that, I was shocked that the judge actually said the reason he made his decision was because of the police violence against peaceful demonstrators. I mean, he literally said that over and over again in the court. That was pretty shocking.
Brandi Morin: And they’re still out there doing… Like I said, they’re not accountable to anybody. And if they go back to court, and if any of my coverage is used in that case and others, then I mean, I can’t see it being renewed again. And I think a lot of people are… There’s people that support what they’re doing, but also aren’t able to be there and stuff on the ground. So I don’t know. It’s just like it’s also a big power trip. It’s a big power struggle, because at the same time, if they were to, if the province or the industry or whatever were to give in right now, who’s to say that these kinds of things wouldn’t happen in the future? That’s just speculation, and that’s something that I’ve heard others talk about as well, but I just know that it’s going to get uglier, and I think somebody is going to get very, very hurt up there.
Marc Steiner: Well, Brandi Morin, I want to thank you, first of all, for joining us today, and we’re going to be covering this and talking to other folks who are there. We’ve been in touch with Bill Jones, with an old friend of mine, Erika Heyrman, who lives on Vancouver Island, who’s been with Bill and others, and two other women who are Indigenous leaders up there. So we’re going to continue this, and with you as well, because I think this is a situation that speaks to not just Canada, not just to Indigenous people, but is speaking to the entire world about what we have to do to defend not just the earth, but our future. And thank you for your work, and we’ll be linking to your work here on the website, so people can see the stuff you’ve been doing. And thank you for the work you do, and for the bravery you’ve shown in going out to the front lines and getting these stories out, and we look forward to staying in touch and doing more conversations.
Brandi Morin: Têniki [Plains Cree for “thank you”], Marc. Hay-hay.
Marc Steiner: Hay-hay. Thank you all for joining us today, and please let me know what you think about what you’ve heard today, what you’d like us to cover. Just write to me at email@example.com, and I promise I’ll get right back to you, and if you’ve not joined us yet, please go to www.therealnews.com/support, become a monthly donor, and become part of the future with us. So for Stephen Frank and the crew here at the real news, I’m Marc Steiner, stay involved, keep listening, and take care.