‘Go back to your teepees’: First Nations people protecting old growth forest on Vancouver Island say they were attacked by forestry workers

Company condemns violence and RCMP says investigators are on the way.

Tensions have been high for the last year after blockades were put up to protect old growth trees in Fairy Creek.

On May 4, a group of forestry workers were caught on video yelling at protesters near the Walbran Valley to get off Western Forest Products Land.

They were expressing frustration that their jobs have been affected by blockades since August of last year.

The Rainforest Flying Squad, an environmental group behind the blockades, say they are protecting growth forests near Port Renfrew Vancouver Island.

In a phone interview with APTN News, Kati George Jim, niece of Pacheedaht Elder William Jones, said tensions have been building on the logging roads.

“Three separate incidents beforehand that were all different people that were threatened by industry workers, the violent retaliation of them earlier was specifically targeted at the only visible minority and Indigenous people at the camp,” she said.

Fairy Creek
Alleged injury of young Indigenous protestor from May 4 incident. Photo courtesy: Rainforest Flying Squad

In the video, the confrontation started having racists undertones with loggers referring to welfare checks and yelling “Go back to your teepees” and “you’re making Walbran look like East Hastings”  were all messages directed at the Indigenous protestors at the camp.

Then the video shows a forestry worker knocking the phone out of the hand of the protestor who is filming the video.

Aya Clappis is a youth from Huu-ay-aht First Nations; she says she is against old-growth logging in the area.

“There are several Western Forest Products contractors who are extremely aggravated and extremely angry and embodied such a deep hate,” she said in a phone interview. “I think that reflects the racism that is embedded in the industry culture.”

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The Rainforest Flying Squad said an Indigenous youth was injured after being attacked by multiple forestry workers.

On May 5, In an online statement, Western Forest Products said they were aware of the incident and would be pausing operations.

“We were made aware of allegations of an incident that occurred yesterday involving a contractor working for TFL 44 Limited Partnership, a limited partnership between Huu-Ay-Aht First Nation-owned Huumiis Venture Limited partnership and Western,” the statement read.

“We understand that TFL 44 LP has paused operations in the area where the incident occurred while an investigation of the allegations take place.”

On May 6, John Jack, chair of Huumiis Ventures, and Shannon Janzen, chair of the TFL 44 LP board, condemned the violence in a statement after watching the video.

“The behaviour of the individuals in the video is completely unacceptable and is entirely at odds with our shared values. The use of racist language, intimidation, and acts of violence have no place in our society or our workplaces, and we have zero tolerance for such behaviour,” the statement said.

“Please be assured, we will do everything to address this incident swiftly and with the serious and respectful focus it deserves.”

On Thursday, in a statement to APTN, Christopher Manseau, a spokesperson for RCMP, said they are sending investigators to the area.

“The RCMP was made aware of the video yesterday after it was made public. At that time there had been no reports made to the RCMP, and no investigations had been initiated,” the email said.

“The Lake Cowichan RCMP have since proactively sent investigators to the area to speak with victims and witnesses to determine their wishes in this matter.”

Fairy Creek
Aya Clappis is a youth from Huu-ay-aht First Nations- Submitted photo.

APTN reached out to Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations who have agreements with logging companies but did not get a response for this story.

Aya Clappis wants the public to know this is part of a larger issue.

“It is not about a tree coming down, it not just about protecting biodiversity, all of those things matter; however the deeper issue and the root of this problem is rooting in extractivism and colonial capitalism,” she said.

Clappis said it’s her cultural teaching that empowers her actions.

“In coastal Indigenous law it is our duty to take care of and protect the land, as well as all the people on those lands,” she says.

Kati George-Jim stated the acts of violence of the other day will not change their stance.

“This will not deter our supporters; it definitely will not deter e from speaking about the significates of these types of targeted violence on the land and to the land,” George-Jim said.

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