On a hot Wednesday afternoon, while RCMP attempted to control about 40 protesters supporting their comrades in “hard blocks” at the Waterfall blockade, one part of the Fairy Creek watershed protest, three people were bushwhacking down the mountain out of sight of the police.
As they evaded police by hacking through the brambles, they philosophized: “Did we make the right call to come?” “What does Indigenous sovereignty really look like, and are we supporting it by being here?” “Is the negative impact on logging communities worth the end goal?”
The trio of recent university grads had just finished their first night ops mission. First, they hiked in after sunset to the steep back road camp, hauling 40 kilograms of concrete mix plus tenting gear, climbing rope and some food. Then, they constructed “hard blocks” where protesters will lock themselves to slow police progress.
Slowing everything down is a key part of the Fairy Creek Blockade strategy. They want to keep the trees alive, so they’re doing whatever annoying thing they can to get in the way.
Each hard block is different, but the most common is called a sleeping dragon: an arm-sized hole in the road, reinforced with concrete and metal and a locking mechanism at the bottom. A protester will lie on the ground with their arm locked in the hole. They can leave whenever they want, but it takes the RCMP’s tactical team hours to safely extract someone who isn’t cooperating.
This tripod hard block holds protester Andreea Privu about 20 feet above the road, with a PVC pipe arm cuff she can lock herself into if needed. It’s difficult for RCMP to extract someone safely from a structure like this, adding hours to their efforts to enforce an injunction. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Since May 17, RCMP have tried to enforce a court-ordered injunction on Tree Forest Licence 46 in the backwoods between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan, where the Teal-Jones Group has a licence to build roads and log.
But they seem to have made little progress securing access to the area, despite making upwards of 170 arrests for civil breach of the injunction. The amorphous group of protesters, or so-called land defenders, have so far succeeded in reinforcing their blockades each time, even taking back areas the RCMP previously cleared out.
“I am pro-forestry, and I felt really uncomfortable protesting forestry in a community that is not my own,” said one of the three renegade builders who’s going by Monkey — protesters at the camp are all using camp names to maintain anonymity. But his retiree parents were out camping in the bush, willing to be arrested for the cause, so Monkey came to support them. Then, seeing the trees up close, he quickly changed his mind.
“I’ve never felt good about old-growth logging, and after seeing the trees, it was a no-brainer to me. I think that forestry that happens conventionally with second-growth logs is fine, but the stuff at Eden (a camp near Avatar grove), it’s insane. There’s like these 12- to 15-foot cedars, and there’s tons of them,” he said.
Monkey’s friends Rowan and Willow (also camp names) came after hours of research and lengthy discussions. They came with climbing skills, critical minds and a dozen Rubbermaid totes of donated rock climbing gear from the Squamish climbing community.
This hard block that Kassia Kooy, 25, locked herself to, was a new design for police. Sgt. Elenore Sturko said ingenuity like this is the reason police’s enforcement action has not moved faster. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Every time the RCMP breakthrough one block, the protesters are already thinking up new ideas to make things more complicated. Protesters come with various specialties that have proven useful, like Rowan, a recently graduated environmental engineer.
“This is the closest I’ve found to work in my field,” he laughed.
Even while cordoned off by police during the day, protesters are scheming and brainstorming. Whispers of “What about …,” “Could we …,” “Does anyone know… ,” “How do you … ,” merge with the sound of the waterfall in the distance, the chatter of birds and wind in the leaves.
One report from the protesters described leaving rock and log wall obstacles for police to dismantle with as many hours of manual labour as it took to construct. “At one point, forest defenders were constructing barricades within eyesight of police removing them,” the Rainforest Flying Squad’s media team wrote.
Back at headquarters, Monkey, Rowan and Willow download their intelligence to someone at the intake tent with a walkie-talkie clipped to her shorts. She sends them to the kitchen for food: “Tell them you just came off a night op. They’ll make something for you.” It had been almost 18 hours since they’d hiked out the night before.
The kitchen is a rustic structure just past the makeshift wooden gate at Fairy Creek HQ. It’s often the starting place for people who show up wanting to help.
Bari Precious, a.k.a. Cookie, turned 73 working in Fairy Creek HQ kitchen in late May. She said she’s here for the trees, for reconciliation, and she’s going to try to stay until it’s resolved. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
It’s where Cookie ended up, real name Bari Precious when she turned up in April. “I said, I don’t want to lift rocks, but I can cook. They said, ‘Okay, you’re on tomorrow at 6 a.m.’ And that’s how it began.”
Precious has been running the kitchen, often from 6 a.m. until after dark. She and helpers scramble eggs and simmer porridge for breakfast and then pack sandwiches for road crews before starting lunch and then dinner. There isn’t a lot of time to rest, but there are many volunteers to chop vegetables, boil water, stir soup and wash dishes.
Precious isn’t new to civil disobedience – she says she helped hide American draft dodgers in the 1960s – but says this is the first time she’s committed this much to a cause. She visited the camp for a few days here and there in April, but by the end of May had decided to stick it out. She turned 73 in the backwoods last week and only remembered because her 98-year-old mother scolded her for being away from home.
She’s there for the trees, of course. It takes 900 years for the forest to develop one foot of topsoil, she lectures from over the kitchen counter, in between answering questions and directing her hive of helpers.
“But most of all, this is reconciliation,” she said. “We took over, and we’ve taken severe advantage of (the First Nations.) We’ve taken lives away.”
Shail Wolf admires the ancient tree the protesters have dubbed the grandmother. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Any given day, visitors to camp will see an incongruously organized mixture of retirees, recent graduates, working professionals and some who have left their jobs to protest. There are doctors, tradespeople, social workers, educators, farmers, artists and entrepreneurs. No one’s in charge, but everyday food gets made, rocks and logs are hauled into place, donations are sorted and distributed, the news is shared, and plans are made.
“I hate to compare it to a war effort, but there are people at home who are coordinating things and gathering supplies that are necessary for people who are willing or able to go to the front lines,” Rowan said.
The next night, Rowan, Willow and Monkey were back at Waterfall for another night’s construction of hard blocks. Monkey woke at 4:30 a.m. on Friday to the sound of several plainclothes RCMP officers walking into camp. Then, he heard the rip of a bag of fast-expanding foam being opened.
Before he could stop them, the officers had filled in the holes of all but one hard block with the foam that dries rock hard, making them unusable. The next day, hundreds of new supporters hiked to various blockades and camps in the forest, and the stand-off continues.
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RELATED: First Nations tell B.C. to pause old growth logging on southwest Vancouver Island
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