The elected leadership of the Tsawout First Nation has given the green light to an extensive logging operation on Saturna Island, much to the surprise and dismay of many in their community.
The decision was announced Feb. 26 and some Tsawout members say there has been no consultation or communication from the chief and council, who made the decision.
Nick Claxton, a member of the Tsawout First Nation, has been visiting the area since he was a young boy and estimates almost a third of the reserve lands, 130 acres, have been clear cut.
The Tsawout First Nation has 955 registered members, with more than half living on a small reserve near Central Saanich.
“The only current standing land on which we can safely practise, celebrate and teach many of our traditional activities is on our reserve land on Saturna Island, activities we have been practising for thousands of years,” said Claxton.
“It is specifically Douglas Treaty traditional hunting and fishing land,” said Perry La Fortune, a member of the Tsawout First Nation.
“My grandfather had a campsite there since 1904 and my family have been using it since.”
The lands are jointly owned with the Tseycum First Nation near North Saanich, and members there report being confused, but acknowledge their leadership appear to have legally agreed to the the tree clearances.
“According to the Department of Indian Affairs [Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada], all protocols have been followed,” said La Fortune.
“They’re [the government] not supporting us. And when we asked council why they are doing this, the first reason was beetle infestation. Then after that powder worms, then today it is root rot. They can’t make up their minds.”
Since 2012, members of the two nations have been consulted about logging on at least two occasions, but the idea was rejected each time.
Those unhappy with the logging operations say, in their view, the issue is compounded by a lack of compliance with regulations.
Jesurun Marks, a logger and hand faller with eight years experience and a member of the Tsawout band, informally inspected the site and wrote a report citing a number of concerns such as bird nests and animal dens in the area, including a bear den, as well as environmental worries such as silt run-off, wind damage and not adhering to buffer zones.
Other members say that culturally modified trees have been marked for falling and they are concerned archaeological surveys haven’t been carried out correctly, with the possibility of burial sites in the vicinity.
Indigenous Services Canada confirmed that Chemainus Forest Products has been appointed to harvest 33,477 cubic metres of trees within Saturna Island IR No. 7 and that a timber permit was issued by the department on Feb. 26.
La Fortune says he asked council where the money from the logging would go and was told it would be put in a trust fund for the two bands in Ottawa.
He says that some members of the community will take direct action if the logging doesn’t cease.