By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – First Nations in B.C. are concerned with the government’s old-growth deferral process, believing that the province isn’t doing enough to protect forests.
In November, the government approached First Nations with 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forests at risk of loss of permanent biodiversity. They then gave the First Nations 30 days to decide if they supported logging deferrals in those areas.
Many Indigenous people, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, believe that 30 days is not enough time to make such a decision, as Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said it was a “critically important discussion.”
“The issue of old growth is, in many ways, the metaphor for the absolute neglect of the forest lands in B.C. for the last 50 years,” said Phillip.
“The forest industry itself has traditionally been the piggy bank for the provincial government, no matter what political stripe, they may be.”
Supporters of the First Nations believe that the government actions are not consistent with free, prior and informed consent, which is a major aspect of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — legislation that passed in B.C. in 2019.
Elected chairperson of the Squamish Nation, Khelsilem, said that 97 per cent of all old-growth forrest have been logged in Squamish territory.
“Asking for consent to defer, but not asking for consent to log, is a total about-face and a misalignment on (the province’s) values when they say they want to partner with First Nations and they want to respect Indigenous rights,” Khelsilem said.