Moving mountains

In 1990 I took 3 months to circumnavigate Vancouver Island by kayak as a transition to my new life in Tofino. Coming around Estevan Point from the north, I caught my first glimpse of Flores Island, in Ahousaht First Nations territory. At that point I’d been paddling past horrendous clear cuts for over a month—most of the mountains on the west coast of Vancouver Island were logged bare during the 80s. Flores Island stuck out like a gem. There is something about seeing a landscape not dominated by industrial humans. It is so rare to see on Planet Earth at this point—it’s an incredibly healing sight. It is not the same as a landscape where the devastation has been carefully hidden by engineers trained in hiding damage. Terms like ‘landscape logging’ or ‘Visual Quality Objectives’ do not encompass the fact that the beauty of a landscape is more than just visual. You can feel when the land is whole—the word whole has the same roots as the word heal.

In my first decade of paddling, I visited much of the BC coast. I would paddle in a locale once or twice, get to know a few place names, and think I was becoming familiar with the land. But I knew nothing of the indigenous names; or history of the people who had lived there for millennia—who still know the stories of the land, the connections of families, and are responsible for stewardship of that place, to hand it on to future generations in good condition.

Nowadays it is pretty rare for me to tie my kayak on a car to travel somewhere else. I tend to paddle right off the beach where I live, go as far as I can and still get back home in a day—Big Wild days. If I can get away for a week or more, it’s up the inlets to the backcountry river valleys.

There are several mountains which dominate the view from Tofino. Straight north is one called Wah-Nah-Jus in the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations language, also known as Lone Cone. To the east is Hilth-hoo-is, named by early colonialists after a fur trader called Colnett. These two mountains make up the Meares Island Tribal Park. To the west is a mountain known in Ahousaht language as Chitaapii—in English, Catface Mountain.

Hishukish tsawalk—everything being one and interconnected
For twenty five years I’ve lived in the shadow of these three mountains. Nuu-chah-nulth thinker N̓aasałuk (John Rampanen) spoke in Tofino a few years back. He said in part “Our people are people of the land, and of the water. We are closely connected, our concept of hishukish tsawalk—everything being one and interconnected—has a deep significance to us as individuals, and as families and as communities. We understand and appreciate that there’s a spirit in the land; there’s a spirit in all that surrounds us. And we are but one spirit—the humans, that are surrounded by many other spirits that share this particular space with us. And each of you are a spirit that shares the space with us as well. So we are all people of the land; we are all people of this land—we share this space together.”

It’s a concept now beginning to be understood by Western physics. In school many years ago we learned about electrons orbiting an atomic nucleus much as planets orbit stars. Turns out reality is a bit more complicated. Particular electrons have a habit of being associated with particular nuclei, but could be far away at any given time. The atoms in the forest around my home are sharing space with my atoms. As Walt Whitman put it back in 1855: “Every atom belonging to you, as good belongs to me.”

Travelling under human power means I can only get so far away from home and back in a day—twenty miles total on a good day, so ten miles out. As my body travels slowly through the Sound, the mountains I am so familiar with begin to move. By the time I’m enjoying a picnic on some remote beach, or perched on a rock way up an inlet, I have a very different view of these mountains than when I began. It’s fun to spend time behind a mountain that I live in front of.

As the day winds down and I begin to paddle home, the mountains begin to move again. I can tell when I’m getting close to home, not just in the two dimensional world of my place on the nautical chart, but also in three dimensions. The peaks of Wah-Nah-Jus and Hilth-hoo-is climb higher and higher as I approach, then settle into a position which feels normal as I return to the beach where Bonny & I live. Finally the cedar forests surrounding our cabin climb high, blocking out any view of the mountains—but I can still feel them looming above, less than a mile away, dominating my space. Then I feel that I’m back home.

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

No penalties for Mount Polley disaster

As we gathered under blue skies in Tofino on the third anniversary of the Mount Polley mining disaster, it was easy to feel connected with the T’exelc  and Xaastull First Nations in whose territories Mount Polley lies. The air was hazy with smoke from the wildfires which had forced both Nations to evacuate from their homes. The haze obscured the view of Catface Mountain, 10 kilometres north of Tofino in Ahousaht First Nations territories, where Imperial Metals is currently pursuing plans to remove the mountaintop to build an open-pit copper mine. Continue reading

water is life

Water is life

This spring a team of Clayoquot Action volunteers gathered to plan an event for the April 29 National Day of Action. Most of the team were graduates of our in-house Doing Democracy course back in November, so had a handle on concepts like the 8 stages of social movements and the 4 roles of activists (Citizen, Rebel, Reformer, Social Change Agent), and were thus equipped to think strategically about what to do.

Nobody had an appetite for marching down Tofino’s 3-block main drag chanting ‘hey hey Kinder Morgan’s got to go’. It’s different in a small town—we needed something fun and inclusive! We began by looking together at the Beautiful Trouble website, and the team quickly settled on the tactic of a human banner. Continue reading

Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine

A tale of two mines

An open-pit copper mine in the heart of Clayoquot Sound? A historic gold mine re-opened using modern technology to scour out minerals the old-timers couldn’t get at? Is this the best we can hope for, almost 25 years after the Clayoquot Summer peaceful protests put the region on the map of global ecological hotspots?

Imperial Metals sparked controversy this month when interviewed by CBC for a story on mining. When asked about Imperial’s Clayoquot Sound claims, Vice President Steve Robertson said “those mining projects are very valuable to the company, we feel they’re high priority projects”. Robertson was formerly the manager of Imperial’s Mount Polley Mine, until their tailings dam failed catastrophically in 2014, spilling 25 million cubic metres of toxic tailings and slurry into pristine Quesnel Lake—one of the biggest mining disasters in the world. Continue reading

Sydney Valley, Clayoquot Sound

I am the river and the river is me

A Māori tribe made history recently when a New Zealand river was granted legal rights. The Whanganui River has been granted personhood and rights, thus settling the longest running court case in New Zealand’s history.

The Whanganui iwi [tribe] of the Māori fought for 140 years to protect their river. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.” Continue reading

Ahousaht First Nations vision

Ahousahts’ vision

Hereditary chiefs typically designate a speaker to speak for them in public. This is because when they say something, it can’t be taken back. So I was curious when I heard Chief Maquinna from Ahousaht was going to speak at a Raincoast Education Society event in Tofino about old growth forests—how was this going to work?

Lewis George is the hereditary chief of Ahousaht, and bears the traditional title m̓ukʷina (Maquinna), which he received from his late father Earl Maquinna George. The first thing he did last week was to explain why he was speaking. Hereditary chiefs can only speak for themselves when they have good news. And Ahousaht has good news!

The Ahousaht confederacy recently announced their marine- and land-use vision for their traditional territories (ḥaḥuułʔi). The community consensus is to protect their lands and waters, including the globally rare ancient rainforests—the massive cedars and spruces—of which they are the custodians. Continue reading

Clayoquot Science Panel

(Originally published in November/December 2016 issue of Watershed Sentinel)

As I struggled to hoist myself up onto the monumental stump of an ancient red cedar, I wondered how it had come to this. Why, in 2010, were trees like this being cut down in Clayoquot Sound? A place where valley after valley of ancient forests never ravaged by chainsaws undulates downwards from the snowy peaks, to surf rolling in on mile-long sandy beaches. Continue reading

Clayoquot Action's Dan Lewis, protest against Kinder Morgan, Burnaby Mountain, BC. Marnie Recker Photography

Ready for Clayoquot 2.0

By approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has either failed to understand who voted for him and why, or he would appear to be a fraud.

During the election he presented himself as an alternative to Stephen Harper—a leader who had weakened environmental regulations, vilified environmentalists as ‘enemies of the state’ and pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Treaty. Justin spoke of the need to restore environmental protections, for true reconciliation with First Nations, to address the climate crisis for the sake of young people, and a return to science-based decision-making.

How could he betray all this? Why would he go to the Paris climate talks and boast “Canada is back”, then accept Harper’s carbon targets as his own? Why would he agree to a pipeline which was approved by a flawed NEB process which he had promised to fix? Why would he spend his summer vacation in Tofino, then put the beautiful west coast of BC at risk of a major oil spill? Continue reading

No pipelines, no tankers, no problems!

The Carnival Marching Band was belting out tunes last Saturday as we began marching from City Hall. Five thousand people flooded the streets of Vancouver in advance of Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion plans. As we crossed the Cambie Street Bridge a massive chant rose up: “Hey hey, Trudeau, Kinder Morgan’s got to go!” It was exhilarating to be together with so many people who are determined to ensure that this pipeline is never built.

Coastal communities on the frontline
A Clayoquot Action contingent made our way down from Tofino to join this massive pipeline protest—because coastal communities like Tofino, Esowista, Ahousaht, and Hot Springs Cove are on the front lines. Long Beach is less than 50 kilometres from the proposed tanker route. This places Clayoquot Sound outside of K-M’s designated Enhanced Area of Response, which means if a spill were to occur, no assistance would be coming for the first 72 hours. Continue reading

MiningWatch heads into the Williams Lake court

Legal action over Mount Polley disaster

On October 18th, Clayoquot Action joined MiningWatch Canada in Williams Lake to support their launch of private prosecution against Imperial Metals and the BC government for the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster.

This legal action is supported by more than a dozen non-profit organizations including Wilderness Committee, Amnesty International, First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining (FNWARM), Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, Kamloops Area Preservation Association, and Sierra Club.

Largest mining disaster in Canadian history
The 25 million cubic metre spill near Likely was the largest in Canadian history. The sheer volume and velocity of the spill instantly killed fish, destroyed a 9 km section of Hazeltine Creek, filled both Polley and Quesnel Lakes with tons of toxic slurry mine waste, triggered drinking water bans, and significantly affected downstream livelihoods. Continue reading