First Nations - Land Rights and Environmentalism in British Columbia

Western Forest Products timber tenure clearcutting, Glditas Daqvu, May 2008. Photo: Ian McAllister (click to enlarge)


Heiltsuk forest defense, Glditas Daqvu, 1998.
Photo: Mary Vickers


Glditas Daqvu

In 1998 about 100 Heiltsuk gathered by boat in the remote coastal rainforest and lake area of Glditas Daqvu to stop Western Forest Products from destroying it (left). The Heiltsuk succeeded in staving off clearcut logging and a decade long moratorium followed. Shockingly in 2008 the forest destruction corp restarted its tenure in Glditas Daqvu (now part of the "Great Bear Rainforest") by laying waste to huge swaths of biodiversity, ruining Heiltsuk resources and heritage (above).

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In July 2008 members of the Heiltsuk Vickers Family travelled to Glditas Daqvu (Ingram - Mooto Watershed). Located 52 km north of Bella Bella in Spiller Inlet, this is an important and ancient Heiltsuk fishing ground. Internal link: Heiltsuk. During the Vickers' presence on their traditional territory, Family members erected signs: "No Commercial Development Or Use Will Be Tolerated" and "Protected For Future Generations" (right). They insist that the logging industry stop its secretive plans to continue its profitable exploitation and destruction of Glditas Daqvu, without the knowledge or proper consent of the Heiltsuk Nation. A press release was issued on 12 August 2008: "The lack of consultation has left us no choice now as a Family, but to make a move ... It's a tough call, we as a Community should be benefiting from this logging operation" Vickers Family Statement.


Protest sign, Glditas Daqvu, 25 July 2008.
Photo: Mary Vickers


"We respectfully ask that our
Community be consulted on the
economic benefit to our Nation.
Will there be a long - term benefit
to the Heiltsuk, or just a few
short - term jobs? We would also
like assurances that the logging
and road building will not
damage other local resources."
Vickers Family Statement

"The short - term benefits vs.
long - term damage to the land.
The fact is that First Nations have
to follow EBM guidelines while
Industry carries on 'Business As
Usual.' The high - grading of
Cedar is devastating to us as
Heiltsuk." Don Vickers,
Elder and Fisherman

Photo: Matt Vickers

"As a Heiltsuk Family, we are
tired of not being told what is
happening in our traditional
territories! There are many
of us. We deserve an opportunity
to have a say on the impacts on
behalf of future generations.
I cannot stress enough the
importance of Cedar and Wild
Salmon to our survival,
as a Nation." Mary Vickers

Photo: Matt Vickers


Heiltsuk Mary Vickers, 2007.
Photo: Karen Wonders


Heiltsuk activist Mary Vickers (left) is a member of the Kokyet/xais xais people who traditionally lived in the Glditas Daqvu area. Mary's father, Jasper (Don Vickers), has been a fisherman for 56 years. He is a newly elected council member (2008) and a well respected elder in the community. Mary grew up with her seven brothers helping her father on his fishing boats. She is dedicated to preserving the indigenous way of life and has worked as a Heiltsuk archaeologist for 13 years.

The Vickers Family is known for respecting Heiltsuk natural resources: for their pride in harvesting and preserving the foods of their ancestors as well as protecting them for generations to come. On 4 June 2008 Mary issued a statement warning of imminent ecological destruction due to logging by Western Forest Products: "The concerns we have for this vast area of Glditas Daqvu are wild salmon, forests and water. The five species of salmon all return here. Wild salmon is Heiltsuk!"

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Spiller Creek, Heiltsuk Territory, 2008.
Photo: Ian McAllister

Statement by Heiltsuk Mary Vickers.
4 June 2008 (click to enlarge)

"The Vickers Family does not oppose development. We do however oppose industrial clearcut logging which destroys the environment and is devastating to our way of life, how we hunt - how we trap - how we fish. Most importantly, how we teach the generations who follow us. We want the possibility of returning to Glditas Daqvu to live some day."

"Who are we to decide for the unborn Heiltsuk? My generation has spent a lot of time cleaning up the cultural genocide instilled on us by Canada. Living sustainably, with the land and sea resources has been our teaching for generations. To this day there are several Heiltsuk families who live traditionally. 70 to 80 per cent of the food that I put on my table comes from Heiltsuk Territory, whether it be traditional land or sea food."

"Glditas Daqvu/ Ingram - Mooto could become a sustainable Healing and Retreat Centre where people could come and see and take part in Heiltsuk cultural traditions and support Heiltsuk ecological tourism. I'm sure the generations after me will have bigger and brighter ideas. That's why it is so important we clean up the mess of colonization and allow our own First Nations an opportunity to make decisions about their own territories on their own basis. Without being pressured or having to prove ourselves in a long and drawn out court process" Mary Vickers (4 June 2008).


"The Vickers Family would like to see this place preserved for future generations. The acts of colonization have been tried and tested on many families across Canada. We have survived assimilation, and oppression. The one battle we continue, and will continue standing up to fight is the protection of our Land and Sea Resources. For 10,000 years our Ancestors maintained a way of life in what society now knows as the Great Bear Rainforest. Today we still maintain this way of life. We still continue to fight, and to protect what is Heiltsuk Nugva" Mary Vickers (4 June 2008).

Heiltsuk Mary Vickers, 2007.
Photo: Karen Wonders

Heiltsuk camp, Glditas Daqvu, 1998.
Photo: Mary Vickers

Heiltsuk camp, Glditas Daqvu, 1998.
Photo: Mary Vickers

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Heiltsuk Chief Don Vickers.
Photo: Ian McAllister


Members of the Vickers Family act as stewards of Glditas Daqvu (Ingram - Mooto Watershed). To assert continued Heiltsuk use and occupation of the area, they built a cabin at the mouth of the Ingram River in 1996. Chief Don Vickers (left) has been a fisherman all of his life, as well as working at the Namu salmon cannery. He says that the multinational logging companies with tenures in Heiltsuk Territory have never shown any respect for Aboriginal Title and Rights.

Vast amounts of valuable timber has already been stripped from Heiltsuk lands with virtually no compensation going to the indigenous peoples whose livelihoods have been severely reduced as a result of wholesale environmental degradation. Chief Vickers belongs to the Hemas Council of Heiltsuk Hereditary Chiefs and knows it to be his obligation to ensure that Heiltsuk land and sea resources are protected for future generations.


Heiltsuk Camp (left)
Glditas Daqvu, 1998

On behalf of the Vickers
Family of the Heiltsuk Nation,
we would like to acknowledge
and share our respect with
the people who have helped
us protect and preserve
Glditas Daqvu/ Ingram-Mooto.

With talking and sharing the
stories of this magnificent
place, we keep the fires
burning, that it will be
preserved for future

Mary Vickers (4 June 2008)


Glditas Daqvu (the Ingram - Mooto Lakes area) is clearly indicated on the 1924 Bella Coola Map of the BC Central Coast (right). Intended to facilitate the pre-emption of land by settlers and land speculators, the Bella Coola map shows how the surveying and naming of indigenous lands were part of a colonialist strategy of appropriation. Cannery sites are marked as well as large tracts of surveyed lands noted as Timber Licenses and Sales. Logging companies targeted the easiest timber to access and collect in coastal booms such as the productive ancient forests at river mouths and valley bottoms which were often also ancient aboriginal village sites. Since this map was drawn up almost a century ago, much of the central and north coast of BC has been deforested. The few remaining areas of intact primaeval forests such as Glditas Daqvu require urgent protection. It is shocking that they are not included in the BC government's "conservancy" areas while other logged over and degraded areas with no valuable ancient cedars are included.


Detail: "Bella Coola Map," 1924.
BC Ministry of Lands (click to enlarge)

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Log dump, Spiller Inlet, 2008. (click to enlarge)
Photo: Ian McAllister (text added)


In the heart of Heiltsuk Territory, Spiller Inlet is the magnificent entrance to the ancient temperate rainforests of Glditas Daqvu, the Ingram - Mooto and Ellerslie Lakes area. This low elevation largely intact ancient rainforest ecosystem is priceless. A decade ago, in 1998, it was defended by Heiltsuk traditionalists who asserted their sovereignty and were supported by non native activists in a joint effort to stop the clearcut logging by Western Forest Products. Along with Ista, on King Island, these were the original hotspots of forest activism that spurred the movement to protect the coastal area now known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

In 2008, after yet another complex package of land use deals had been signed, a 10 year clearcutting moratorium ended and Western Forest Products (WFP) restarted its operation in Glditas Daqvu, an ecological crime that must be exposed. WFP's log dump and beachhead (left) were photographed in May 2008 by Ian McAllister who warns of eminent disaster: "This logging plan has little to do with EBM (Ecologically Based Management). The vast clearcuts and associated roads will merely keep WFP afloat in red cedar for a few more years. It is truly heartbreaking to see this happening with no opposition" (1 June 2008).


Photo left:
Western Forest
Clearcut Logging
at Snass Lake
Glditas Daqvu
May 2008

Map right:
BC Government
North and
Central Coast
Spring 2008

Click images
to enlarge

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Western Forest Products bridge, Ingram Falls, 2008.
Photo: Ian McAllister (click to enlarge)


As the Heiltsuk have often pointed out, there is no "level playing field" when it comes to land use planning by the government, which has a long track record of underhanded schemes designed to serve its big business cohorts. An example is the 1998 invasion of Glditas Daqvu by Western Forest Products. The logging corp built a bridge over the pristine Ingram Falls that remains today (right). At the time of the invasion, Heiltsuk archaeologist Mary Vickers made a plea to environmentalists to help defend the intact ancient rainforest: "Yau Estokwa. I have invited Forest Action Network (FAN) to document the proposed logging plans for Ingram so as myself and my unborn grandchildren can see it and feel our ancestor's spirits. I, Mary Vickers, take responsibility for FAN being in the Ingram. I will continue fighting for my ansestors and my unborn grandchildren. Walas Giaxsixva."


Glditas Daqvu (Ingram - Mooto) Ancient Forest Destruction by Western Forest Products
Logging road operation documented by Forest Action Network in July 1998

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Heiltsuk ancient rainforest, 2000.
Photo: Carsten Brinkmeier (text added)


The Heiltsuk defense and FAN's documentation of the logging road operation (above) contributed to an international outcry and condemnation of the forest industy's wrecking of biodiversity in BC.

Clearcutting, Great Bear Rainforest, 2006.
Photo: Ian McAllister (click for gallery)


Interfor log dump, Jenny Inlet, 2003. (click to enlarge)
Photos: John Harvey (text added)


Ancient forest destruction is forever. The "Great Bear Rainforest" deal with conservationists and the use of green sounding words by government - industry has not stopped the forest destruction. See the Frontline Gallery (above) by Ian McAllister, who reports: "Clearcutting. Everywhere on the coast it's the status quo, clearcutting. It's no different than what you'd see thirty years ago ... they're just trying to log as fast as they can, and get roads into as many valleys as they can. There's no interest in community employment or long term sustainable logging jobs." As long as forest destruction corporations control the timber licenses, there can be no resolution of land title and a transition to true community forests.

A majority of old growth watersheds on the BC coast have been destroyed, leaving scenes of degradation and waste such as that at Jenny Inlet on King Island (left), photographed in 2003 by John Harvey while on a sailing tour with European visitors. The same company, the widely despised Interfor, liquidated the nearby Valley of Ista despite its sacred importance to the Nuxalk and Heiltsuk peoples. When they protested and bravely blockaded the logging corp's operation here in 1995, they were brutally arrested and transported via police boat to Bella Bella, then flown to Vancouver for incarceration and trial.

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We do not support the clearcutting of old growth in the
Ingram - Mooto. This is wrong. Western Forest Products is
ignoring our request for a one-year deferral even though the
Delgamu'ukw and Gladstone cases acknowledge that First
Nations people have the right to financially share in the
benefits of development in their homelands.

We have watched our resources and economic opportunities
being taken away and yet we depend on these for our food
and survival. Our salmon, abalone, halibut, cod, urchins, sea
cucumbers and now our trees are being removed. We want
the logging of the Ingram - Mooto and all removal of resources
to stop until we can have a voice in determining what happens
in our homeland.

We owe this to our future generations and to the land and sea
which provide for us. We want the logging of old-growth to
stop for the sake of all British Columbians.

Heiltsuk Hemas Council of Hereditary Chiefs
Spokesperson Chief Harvey Humchitt, 8 July 1998

Many of the magnificent Heiltsuk carvings in red cedar have disappeared from their original locations. One striking figure remains, photographed in 1967 (below) and in 2006 (right).

Heiltsuk carved figure, 1967.
Photos: Washington University (A. de Menil)


Heiltsuk carved figure, 2006.
Photo: Hatfields

Where logging roads can be blasted into the wilderness, the logging corporations are leveling the trees and burning the slash. In difficult to access areas they are using helicopters to locate and cut down the most valuable ancient red cedars. This high - grading and destruction of Aboriginal Heritage Trees is an act of vandalism that must be condemned as illegal and against the UN Convention of Indigenous Rights. If these corporations can get away with such acts in Canada, then what hope is there of stopping them in the Congo or Indonesia or the Amazon?

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Neekas Inlet, Heiltsuk Territory, 2000.
Photo: Carsten Brinkmeier (AKU)

"We the Heiltsuk Nation, are the stewards of the lands and resources in our territory. This is Gvi'ilas, our traditional way, and we will ensure our land and resources can support us now and into the future" Heiltsuk Tribal Council. The first large scale invasion of Heiltsuk Territory by foreign corporations was c. 1900 when dozens of canneries were set up at the mouths of the richest salmon rivers. By the 1960s stocks that had been stewarded for thousands of years were gone. The Heiltsuk have also endured invasion by government corporations including the Bella Coola Indian Agency (1881); Mid Coast Forest District (1912); and Central Coast Regional District (1960s). None of these corporations has ever recognized the predominantly indigenous population of the central coast nor that its First Nations all claim sovereignty over their unceded lands and waters.


Spawned salmon, Neekas Inlet, 2000.
Photo: Carsten Brinkmeier (AKU)


Heiltsuk Tribal Council on
the LCRMP process - 1998

The process is not what
the Heiltsuk Tribal Council
wants. When we objected
to this process we were
told it would happen with
or without our

The Council decided to
participate in this process
to safeguard Heiltsuk
interests in Heiltsuk lands.
We feel that we are in this
process under duress (we
have been forced to partici-
pate to look after our land).

The LCRMP process is
proceeding as if there were
no Land Question in British
Columbia. We are told that
matters related to Aboriginal
Title and Rights will be dealt
with in the treaty process.

The trouble with this is that
while the treaty process is
going on, the LCRMP process
will begin and end. While the
province says that the LCRMP
process is without any
prejudice to treaty making,
they will be using the LCRMP
plan as their position at the
treaty negotiations.


The Heiltsuk Nation intends to make the best decisions for its people, but its options are limited to the allocation of government and industrial revenue and short term jobs. In 1998 the Heiltsuk Tribal Council issued a critical statement (left) on the government's Central Coast Land and Coastal Resource Management Plan (LCRMP) and on the unfair and compromised position it puts them in.

Similar complaints concern the "Forest and Range Agreements" and more recently the "Joint Venture Plans." These slickly formulated deals aim at reducing the big business "uncertainty" created by landmark FN court cases while compromising aspects of Aboriginal Title and Rights such as the duty to consult and accomodate First Nations.

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Kakushdish is a beautiful little inlet on Denny Island near Bella Bella with a magnificent surviving collection of culturally modified trees (CMTs). An ancient village site remains at Kakushdish and also a huge fish trap. Forest activist Ingmar Lee, who did field research here in August 2007, reports: "These forests have been intensively harvested for bark, planks and resins (right). There are also a lot of examples of smoulder - felling with trees in various stages of the burn process, as well as inside - burnt stumps with no log. The smoulder - felling seems to have been reserved for only the biggest straightest trees, which I have also noticed elsewhere, such as at Cathedral Grove. Here at Kakushdish, the early bark gatherers seem to have favoured the 'lenticular' bottom cut, which is necessary if one was peeling a tree, not only to gather bark, but also to gradually grow a canoe. The lenticular bottom cut, which tapers off to a point as the bark - strip is peeled off, allows for the growth of a beautiful, grown - strength transom."

Kakushdish CMT, 2007.
Photo: Ingmar Lee


Kakushdish CMT, 2007.
Photo: Ingmar Lee

Forest Development Plans are controlled by the BC government and serve corporate interests. An example is the Great Bear Rainforest conservation initiative which has failed to stop the big multi national logging companies. Deviously planned manoeuvres insure that clearcutting continues despite the new ideal of ecologically based management, a typical instance being Western Forest Products' current operation in the intact rainforest of Glditas Daqvu/ Ingram - Mooto.

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The Heiltsuk have often expressed concern over the vanishing ancient cedars and excessive industrial logging: CMTs preserve a partial, but compelling, record of aboriginal presence on the land and utilization of forest resources (1984); How Long Will It Last? Cedar Logging in the Heiltsuk Traditional Territory, Bella Bella (2001); The rapid loss of old growth western red cedar is the same as the loss of our culture (2003); Old growth cedar will predominantly disappear within the next 25 to 35 years (2005).

"This is a threat to our way of life. Our connection to the forests and the land are with the Cedars. Cedar before colonization was our transportation, homes, clothing, tools, etc. Its importance to us is Sacred. We use Cedar in our ceremonies during Potlatches, Feasts, Settlement Feasts, and Blessing Ceremonies. When will Cedar become recognized as Sacred?" Mary Vickers (4 June 2008).


Kakushdish CMT, 2007.
Photo: Ingmar Lee


The Heiltsuk Tribal Council and community members cannot be bought off by inconsequential gestures that do not give them the ultimate decision making power over Heiltsuk land use. For redwash purposes, the government and industry increasingly employ non natives trained as "First Nations relationship managers." Such practices reveal that the intricate web of old, colonial bureaucracy, used to justify stolen indigenous lands remains firmly in place.

Crane nesting, Heiltsuk habitat, 2007.
Photo: Ingmar Lee


Heiltsuk crane habitat, 2007.
Photo: Ingmar Lee

The value of intact rainforest biodiversity is becoming of primary global importance as is the preserving of critical wildlife habitat areas. The elusive Sandhill crane, one of the oldest bird species in existence, returned to its breeding grounds near Bella Bella about 30 years ago, having been almost exterminated in North America by hunting and habitat loss. The cranes plus many other spectacular wildlife species such as the Humpback whale and orca lived for thousands of years under Heiltsuk stewardship and it is to the indigenous peoples we now must turn for the future preservation of these species.

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Wolf at Roscoe Inlet, Glditas Daqvu, 2006.
Photo: Doug Brown

European settlers enacted a "game" system in BC whereby wolves and bears have been killed as vermin or as trophies. This antiquated mentality continues. See Andrew Findlay: Hunting for Grizzly Bears (Georgia Strait, 26 June 2008). Such blood sports parallel the stealing of indigenous lands and resources and must be replaced with a mentality that thinks of wildlife as a keystone indicator of biodiversity, inextricably connected to the First Nations gaining back their lands and returning to an indigenous form of stewardship.


Large carnivores genetically adapted to the rainforest, the wolf and the grizzly, have flourished under Heiltsuk stewardship. Heiltsuk nature photographer Doug Brown captured one lone wolf at Roscoe Inlet (left). The preservation of such free ranging species will not succeed because the conservancies are too small and disconnected and the forest destruction industry has not been stopped. Along with the big cedars and wild salmon, irreplaceable wildlife habitat continues to vanish from the BC coast.

Grizzly, Great Bear Rainforest, 2008.
Photo: Ian McAllister

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