First Nations - Land Rights and Environmentalism in British Columbia


Nuxalk activists and their supporters blockading a logging road at Ista on King Island in 1997 under the banner "Protect the Great Bear Rainforest." The Nuxalk are protesting against Interfor's clearcut logging and desecration of the sanctity of their place of origin. Armed RCMP officers (in dark blue) are moving in to make arrests.   Photo: Nuxalk House of Smayusta







Bella Coola on Tour


"The Nuxalk Nation has been occupying and exercising our rights on the lands, water and resources of our Ancestral Territory since time immemorial. What is now known as the Nuxalk Nation is a mixture of many villages that were distributed throughout Ancestral Nuxalk territory, including the four largest villages of Talyu to the south, Nutl'l (Kimsquit) to the north, Kwalhtna to the west and Qomqots to the east" Nuxalk Nation.

The Nuxalk (pronounced "new - hawk") people are well known outside Canada, especially in Germany, where Nuxalk performers toured in 1885 and 1886, famously inspiring the founder of American ethnology Franz Boas to embark on his Northwest Coast studies. Today in Europe the Nuxalk are best known for their protests against the destruction of their forests and natural resources and for asserting their Aboriginal Title and Rights as a sovereign people who have never ceded or relinquished their homeland (right).


Nuxalk Territory (blue).
Photo: Nuxalk Nation

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Nuxalk House of Smayusta

Among the European environmental and human rights groups to respond to the Nuxalk call for support was the German activist network AKU which highlights the Nuxalk's battle to save their ancient culture from the chainsaws of the logging industry: Kultur statt Kettensaegen. In 2006, a decade after the Nuxalk began the Ista protest, the Great Bear Rainforest protection deal was made. AKU, in its rendering of the official map, exposes this deal (right). The red areas have no protection - almost 70 per cent of the total land base. Shockingly, Ista and the four primary locations of Nuxalk heritage – Talyu – Nutl'l – Kwalhtna – Qomqots – are located in red areas with no protection and no recognition of Nuxalk territorial sovereignty (far right).


The Nuxalk House of Smayusta is a pathbreaking traditional First Nations government and activist organization that has done much to illuminate indigenous rights issues in British Columbia (BC) for the outside world. Its website documents the Nuxalk stands made against the exploitation of their lands and waters by logging, mining and fish farms from 1995 to 2003 (left). When Interfor (International Forest Products Ltd.) invaded Ista, the religious place of origin of the Nuxalk, it was the last straw of violation: "We can no longer stand by and watch logging corporations destroying our old Nuxalk villages, hunting grounds, fishing grounds, grave sites and sacred areas" Nuxalk Special Flyer (10 September 1995). Many Nuxalk protesters were arrested for defending ISTA, including Chief Qwatsinas (left).

Great Bear Rainforest, 2006.
Map additions: AKU & K. Wonders

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1995 to 2003
Protests - Arrests - Incarcerations


Logging Protests - Arrests

10 Sep

Nuxalk protesters served with injunction
for blockading Interfor at Ista

16 Sep

Nuxalk greet their Heiltsuk neighbours
and supporters at Ista

26 Sep

22 arrests at Ista including four Nuxalk. All were flown to Vancouver for incarceration

27 Sep

Statements by Hereditary Chiefs:
Nuximlayc - Qwatsinas - Slicxwliqw'


Logging Protests - Arrests

21 Mar

Seventeen Nuxalk arrested in Bella Coola
including Chief Nuximlayc, spiritual leader
Simon Schooner, elder Arthur Pootlass
and Chief Snuxyaltwa


Logging Protests - Arrests

06 Jun

Nuxalk and their non native supporters
initiate a blockade at Ista against Interfor
and prevent logging for nineteen days

24 Sep

Six Nuxalk (Chief Qwatsinas, Emily Johnny,
Harry Schooner, Ernest Tallio, Warren Snow
and Colette Schooner) and fifteen non
natives are arrested at Ista


Nuxalk on Trial - Vancouver

06 Jul

Nuxalk reoccupy traditonal territory:

03 Oct

10 Oct

Six Nuxalk activists (Warren Snow,
Emily Johnny, William Ernest Tallio,
Harry Schooner, Chief Qwatsinas and
Colette Schooner) are tried in BC Court:
Virtual Stand at Ista


Nuxalk on Trial - Vancouver

12 Feb

Nuxalk sentenced by BC Court


Nuxalk Mining Protests

14 May

Nuxalk oppose Polaris project:
Statement of Nuximlayc


Nuxalk Farmed Fish Protests

03  Dec

Nuxalk protest Omega fish farm:
Ocean Falls Protest

11 Dec

Nuxalk blockade Marine Harvest:
Farmed Fish Truck Stopped


Nuxalk Farmed Fish Protests

15 Jan

Nuxalk protest Omega at Ocean Falls:
Atlantic Salmon Hatchery Statements

03 Apr

Nuxalk protest farmed salmon:
Safeway Demonstration (Vancouver)

03 Apr

Nuxalk protest farmed salmon:
Real Canadian Superstore (Vancouver)

01 May

Nuxalk blockade road in Bella Coola:
Illegal Transportation of Farmed Salmon

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Land use plans imposed on Nuxalk Territory.
Collage: K. Wonders (click to enlarge)

For the Nuxalk, the Great Bear Rainforest is simply another land management plan imposed on their territory like so many other slick schemes, all without proper indigenous participation. Between 2004 and 2006, for example, there were no fewer than six proposed BC government industry land use plans that incorporated Nuxalk Territory (above).

Nuxalk member Ray Morton has participated in the defence of Nuxalk heritage by occupying the primaeval valley of Scw7cwlk. Seen in 1997, he stands beside a culturally modified cedar tree that shows how cedars are used in Nuxalk culture (right). In 2007, he helped to organize an indigenous gathering to call attention to the catastrophic loss of a vital Nuxalk food fish: Eulachon Conference. A new Nuxalk generation is trained to manage Nuxalk forests, fisheries and other natural resources, and BC government policies must change to accomodate them and their rights.


The above timeline shows the extraordinary effort and personal sacrifice invested by the Nuxalk people in protecting their heritage and lands. Nuxalk member Jacinda Mack, whose 86 year old grandmother "Skuclikwana" was present at Ista, has written about the stand: Nuxalk Articles. She says that the Nuxalk community acknowledges neither the name "Great Bear Rainforest" nor the nature protection concept it represents.

Nuxalk Ray Morton, 2000.
Photo: Nuxalk House of Smayusta

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Great Bear Rainforest minus "Nuxalk Lands."
Graphic: Chief Qwatsinas (red text added)

Chief Qwatsinas, seen in his traditional salmon smokehouse in Bella Coola in July 2007 (right), describes why he and the other principled Nuxalk activists who made a stand at Ista in 1995 and 1997 against Interfor are opposed to coercive deals with government and industry: "I never liked the ransom payouts or the hostage and kidnapping of the Great Bear Rainforest. Because our regions were kept economically starved, that does not mean we must keep our sights low in accepting shoddy deals or environmental sacrifices. The ten years of conflict is no excuse for hurrying in accepting this deal, since we are talking about saving thousands of years of nature's evolution. For the forest industry, it is always a short term victory. For First Nations and the native wildlife – bears, birds and salmon – it is a long term loss."


The Great Bear Rainforest land use plan was agreed on 7 February 2006 and a final map was released. This map was redrawn on 7 July 2007 by House of Smayusta Chief Qwatsinas so that it excludes Nuxalk Lands (left). He explains why the Nuxalk Nation did not take part in negotiations to save the coastal rainforest that resulted in the government – industry touted deal. A government condition, he says, was that the Nuxalk Nation join the BC Treaty Process, a path rejected by the Nuxalk people. Like a majority of First Nations, the Nuxalk condemns this process as yet another colonial device designed to extinguish Aboriginal Title and Rights. For the House of Smayusta, most important is to honour the elders and uphold the tradition to protect their homeland and ensure the survival of their way of life. "For the future of our Children, Grandchildren and Children yet unborn. Nuxalk Strong – Nuxalk Forever."

Chief Qwatsinas, 7 July 2007.
Photo: Karen Wonders

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Redwashing by the Vancouver Sun, 2008.
Graphic: K. Wonders (click for original)

Chief Qwatsinas explains the position taken by the Nuxalk House of Smayusta in 1995 when Interfor began clearcut logging the sacred Valley of Ista, Nuxalknalus. "We aligned ourselves with environmental groups as guests to our ancestral lands to help get the word out to the world and protect our lands . . . It has been regarded as a protest/ blockade against logging, clearcut logging practices and its impacts; but for us, it was for Nuxalk history, existence, beliefs, and who we are, as a people" Chief Qwatsinas: Statement on Ista (13 Feb. 2008).


The photo of Chief Qwatsinas taken in 1997 during the Nuxalk protest at Ista was used in the Vancouver Sun newspaper (left) to announce the official signing of the Great Bear Rainforest deal on 7 February 2008. This is more than crude appropriation: it is a case of disrespect and deceit on behalf of big business and government. See subchapter: Redwashing. Chief Qwatsinas rightly reacted in anger: "I did not like my picture being used in the article and supposedly representing the Nuxalk in the 'Love - In' deal. It is misused, misrepresented, and certainly misinterpreted in expressing Nuxalk involvement in these plans. We want to make it very clear that Nuxalk were not involved in the April 4th, 2001 Great Bear Forest deal and did not participate in its conception" Press Statement (12 Feb. 2008).

Interfor's clearcutting of Ista, 1997.
Photo: House of Smayusta (text added)

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The desecration of Ista mobilized international activists who converged on Ista in Nuxalk Territory in 1997 where they were witness to the human rights abuses and environmental destruction that are one and the same thing. A decade later and nothing has changed. The logging industry and government propaganda claiming a "love - in of collaboration" with First Nations in 2008 is a devious ploy to marginalize the Nuxalk people and thwart their many sacrifices to protect their lands and heritage (right).

Chief Qwatsinas arrested by RCMP at Ista, 1997.
Photo: Nuxalk House of Smayusta

"To clearcut log the valley
of 'Ista' is like the tearing
down of other peoples'
churches . . . To destroy
'Ista' is to destroy Nuxalk
beliefs, human and
Indigenous rights, and
our identity as a people"
Chief Qwatsinas

Chief Qwatsinas was arrested at Ista in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Assault forces deployed to the remote and inaccessible rainforest location included some 40 Royal Canadian Mounted Police with their helicopters and boats as well as Coast Guard backups. The photo of Chief Qwatsinas being arrested at Ista in 1997 (left) documents a display of excessive police force. As he himself says, he is no "show - and - dance" native whose cooperation can be bought. Rather, Chief Qwatsinas remains a frontline First Nations activist who continues to maintain: "As Nuxalkmc, we have never ceded, treatied, sold, or relinquished our connection to our lands and rights. Our Creator through the Great Spirit put us into these lands to care for and protect; as Nuxalkmc, we are committed to do so" Statement on Ista.


For their just stand on Nuxalk sovereignty, the Nuxalk people have been victimized by court intimidation, incarceration and government engineered economic deprivation. Following the Nuxalk stand at Ista, Interfor clearcut logged the Ista rainforest and in a further act of petty spite, the company and the BC Ministry of Forests moved their offices out of the Bella Coola Valley, causing job losses among the Nuxalk. Since the 2004 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, First Nations are entitled to consultation and accommodation regarding any resource extraction on their territories. Yet the BC Forest and Range Agreement offered to the Nuxalk in 2005 is a coercive arrangement, compromising Aboriginal Title and Rights. And the clearcutting continues today: right is a 2006 photo of the Parker Creek watershed on Nuxalknalus (King Island), which lies in the heartland of the Great Bear Rainforest.


Interfor clearcut, Nuxalknalus, 2006.
Photo: Ian McAllister

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"Bear Market." (click for original)
Photo: Ian McAllister (text added)


The $120 million Coast Opportunities Fund dedicated to protecting nature in the Great Bear Rainforest has become a coverup for the continuing "sustained" development agenda by international resource extraction corporations. Typical is the pro big business article which uses an image of a bear to greenwash its species killing intent (left). While the article claims "business as usual for big logging" is a matter of the past, the opposite is true. Chief Qwatsinas warns the players: "Nuxalk ancestral lands and rights remain a 'Land and Rights Question,' they are still unceded, untreatied, and not extinguished today. No other party has the mandate or authority to negotiate on behalf of the Nuxalk; we have never given this consent. These Ecosytem Based Management plans and policies were done without consulting us. If they are like the Forest Practices Code with a few more frills, then history may repeat itself" Press Statement.


AKU Poster Gallery on BC at "Viva Touristika" in Rostock (click on posters to enlarge)










Bella Coola on Tour

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Copyright: All Rights Reserved. Researched, written, compiled, formatted, hyperlinked and encoded by Dr. Karen Wonders. Images and intellectual property rights reside with the credited owner. Commercial transmission and/or reproduction requires written permission. Use for educational and research purposes requires proper citation.