The indigenous communities of Canada have to face challenges protecting their land and resources of survival from time to time. They have to fight the government and international companies to stall projects that could have negative environmental impact and damage their livelihood.
The recent opposition against the $4.5 billion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline reminded the local communities of Tofino and Ucluelet about the historic Clayoquot protests of the early 1990s. It was one of the most significant acts of civil disobedience and an even when the whole world stood with the indigenous communities to protect their forest land from logging activities.
The Clayoquot protests were held to protect the magnificent Clayoquot Sound located in British Columbia. The 265,000 hectares of rainforest is home to over 45 threatened, endangered and vulnerable species. It has significant ecological importance with geographical variations such as islands, valleys, and mountains.
The area is also home to Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. The area became UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve after a long battle to protect itself from deforestation which would have threatened the existence of wildlife and the indigenous communities.
The last of the intact rainforests in the world, Clayoquot Sound faced threats of large-scale logging in the early 1990s. Many stakeholders came together to oppose the move and comprised of environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the indigenous communities and First Nations of the region and the public.
Many grassroots protests were organized and the largest of them saw the participation of over 800 people from various walks of life. After the massive protests and mounting international pressure the 1999 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by First Nations, environmental groups and Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd which is completely owned by First Nations.
For more than a decade, Iisaak Forest Resources have been operating in the area keeping a balance between logging and tree cover in the area. The MOU and suggestions from governmental science board for reform of logging have been able to conserve a large part of the Clayoquot Sound.
Apart from environmental benefit, the protests also had the economic impact. Data from Statistics Canada reveal that employment and income of the indigenous communities and First Nations remained steady over the period of 1991 to 2011. Local communities such as Tofino and Ucluelet faced the initial drop in employment but soon grew to reach the level of other forestry sectors employment in coastal areas. It has also given the Nuu Chah Nulth Nations an opportunity to manage and access 100,000 cubic meters of harvesting area per year.
The anniversary of the Clayoquot protests is still celebrated in the region remembering the courageous protestors. They honor the contribution of the indigenous communities and noted environmentalists who joined the protest such as Karen Mahon, Elizabeth May, Valerie Langer and Tzeporah Berman.