Nuxalkmc Defying the Court

Nuxalkmc Elders, Chiefs and Supporters, 12 February 1999
British Columbia Supreme Court, Vancouver

Statement to the Press
Vancouver, British Columbia
12 February 1999

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has given six members of the Nuxalk First Nation suspended jail sentences and two years probation for their efforts in preventing International Forest Products (Interfor) from clearcutting an ancient rainforest valley in the Great Bear Rainforest.

The defendants, including Hereditary Chief Qwatsinas (Edward Moody), stood on a logging road for 19 days along with members of Greenpeace, the Forest Action Network and other environmental groups during a 1997 protest which stopped logging crews from entering the Nuxalk's sacred valley of ISTA.

British Columbia Supreme Court Justice David Vickers handed down the sentence today after the court heard a speech from Head Hereditary Chief Nuximlayc about ISTA'S importance to the Nuxalk culture. After hearing the story of ISTA, Justice Vickers stated, "Perhaps the tragedy of all our lives is that we haven't shared these stories except in courtrooms."

The sentence comes at time when the government of British Columbia has seriously weakened environmental protection regulations in the Provincial Forest Practices Code and has failed to enact Endangered Species Legislation even though the government's own scientists admit one in ten plant and animal species in the province are at risk of extinction.

"I am charged with contempt of court," Chief Qwatsinas told Justice Vickers. "Yet there is continuous contempt of our culture, our heritage, our lands and our rights. Logging companies coming to our land without our consent show contempt of our laws, our land, our people."

The six Nuxalk Nation members sentenced today are part of a group known as the ISTA 24, who participated in the June 1997 ISTA protest. In April of 1998 a trial was held for 18 non Nuxalk activists who helped to stop the clearcutting of ISTA at the invitation of the Nuxalk Hereditary Chiefs. Four of those individuals from Germany, Ireland, Belgium and Canada received 21 days in jail and the remaining 14 were given suspended sentences.

Located on King Island near the central coast community of Bella Coola, ISTA is sacred to the Nuxalk People who believe ISTA is where all life began. Despite repeated protests by the Nuxalk Nation, supported by the environmental community, ISTA continues to be clearcut by the Interfor logging corporation.

Because 80 percent of the intact (primaeval) rainforest valleys of British Columbia have already been impacted by industrial logging, Greenpeace is campaigning internationally for a moratorium on the central mainland coast. Two logging companies hold the majority of licenses to clearcut the last valleys of the Great Bear Rainforest; Interfor and Western Forest Products.

"Someday the world will look back and wonder why people had to risk arrest and face jail terms for trying to protect these rare, ancient and endangered places," says Greenpeace forest specialist Catherine Stewart. "Until that day, Greenpeace will stand with the Nuxalk people and the ancient forests they have never relinquished."

Forest Action Network spokesperson Gavin Edwards states: "It is outrageous that as we approach the end of the millenium both the BC government and logging industry are attempting to criminalize First Nations people for fulfilling their responsibilities to protect their lands and forests."

Nuxalk House of Smayusta
Forest Action Network

Note to Editors: Chief Qwatsinas was sentenced to 45 days in jail and the sentence was suspended. Warren Snow, Harry Schooner, Emily Johnny, Collette Schooner and Ernie Tallio were sentenced to 21 days in jail, sentences also suspended. All defendants received two years probation and were forced to sign an undertaking to "keep the peace."

ISTA: A Nuxalk Reminisces (2009)

It was a long road through those trials of ISTA when I finally stood in front of the court judge who was about to pass sentence on me that warm day in June of 1999. I listened very carefully about what the prosecution lawyers were saying about all the arrestees; their individual profiles and all. I listened to the arguments put forth by the logging company, Interfor. Most of all I listened to the testimony of the other Chiefs and Elders. It was the same feeling that I felt as a child that I had to protect this valley called ISTA; I knew it was something special and that it meant so much to our people. The freedom I felt in the forests, the love I felt for the things it provided for us.

I knew as I camped from day to day at ISTA that the BC law enforcement officials would be coming to remove us. I felt that they no longer felt a yearning or longing for the land or its provision and that the fate of ISTA was in my hands. I felt the cold air in the evenings and in the mornings. I drank the cold glacier waters from the creek and I even bathed in it. It was no longer distant from me; I was in it. I walked amongst the huge trees, into the mountainside, and felt the soft moss beneath my feet. I tasted the medicines, I tasted the marine life at the beach, and I tasted the berries in the forest. My thoughts always wandered into the reality that these things will be gone soon because of the inevitable logging.

I waited intently for the judge's words; I asked to move closer to his bench. He acknowledged my request and motioned me forward; I got as close I could to his bench. I wanted to see his eyes and feel his presence because it was so important to feel his words, to see what they meant. As I looked into his eyes I knew he felt compelled to give me a harsh sentence. When I was arrested at ISTA the police knew I had one day left on my probation from the arrests and protests of 1995. My God, they sure dragged on the courts and its dates; I suppose it was to wear us down spiritually, mentally and physically. The prosecution demanded a harsh sentence for me because they said I was a 'ringleader' and an 'instigator' and that I had broken probation. My sentence turned out to be 45 days in jail. It was suspended on the condition that I sign a two year probation order.

Qwatsinas: ISTA: A Nuxalk Reminisces

Left: Qwatsinas at ISTA Blockade, 1997.


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