On August 1, 1996 Christian White and crew paddled out into Masset Inlet in a cedar canoe to confront the log carrier the "Haida Brave." The log carrier was loaded with cedar trees that had been cut from MacMillan Bloedel's TFL 39. This action by Christian and crew, and supported by 8 other boats and 70-odd witnesses on the beach was to give notice to MacMillan Bloedel and other forest companies on Haida Gwaii that the current policy of clearcutting the Islands is not acceptable. From Mr. White's point of view the action was successful in many ways, and that continuing to bring people's attention to the practices of liquidating the old-growth forests on Haida Gwaii is a necessary act. He says that healthy, land, sea and air are integral to being Haida in this land and that protecting and utilizing the forests in a different way is critical to survival in the present day, the passing on of the land to grandchildren, and to maintaining a strong Haida culture into the future.
The interview took place in Chief Edenshaw's (Morris White) kitchen and was started after looking at photos on the wall of the fishing boats built at Massett in the 1940's. Christian White begins the conversation about when he was out on the inlet in the cedar canoe confronting the log barge.
Christian White (CW) - We have pictures of the canoe and the log barge coming head on. We want to send a message. We are not just renegades. We are standing up for what we believe in and it's free speech. And just because we ruffled a few feathers, we are not going to back down. I see a lot more of our younger generation people waving at me because they know we are standing up for them. We have our heads up and straight eyes.
Ralph Stocker (RS) - They really supported it .. . the young people ... and the elders.
CW It was the middle generation that was the more nervous. We went out there for our own pride we are not going to hide anymore when a large barge goes by. We are going to display our displeasure.
SpruceRoots (SR) - There were other boats around on that day as well.
CW - There were about eight other boats. On the first day, I don't know what time it was, when the log barge was coming out - 3.30 or 4 pm. What they did was they stopped out, they anchored up up by Lavoie's saw mill and we went out in front of our village. They stopped there and we radio phoned them said that we are having a ceremony. They were up there about an hour an hour and a half. We thought they were coming out. We went back to shore and we had a bonfire going and we thought they were starting to head toward us. So we got ready to go back out again. But what they did was they turned around and they went back the inlet. We thought they were just anchoring further up the inlet. We were almost going to pursue them but awhile later we heard that they had come up near Port Clements. And we heard they were trying to get an injunction against us, but how would they do that when we never got within three miles. We felt pretty good about them turning around and going back up the inlet.
So we had a vigil all night. On the first day we had eight boats running around just as support and we had several elders down at the waterfront at the canoe launch. Several young people wanted to paddle with us and lot of them did. So we held a vigil there overnight - waiting. We expected them to sneak by in the nighttime which is their usual practice. But we waited all day and then we heard they were still trying to get an injunction against us. But then come about four o'clock in the afternoon we heard they were coming and so we all gathered back together again. The tide was coming quite strong and we timed it so that we could catch the tide. We wanted to show our own people that we were standing up against them. That's why we wanted it to happen right in front of our own village. On the Dinan Logger, there was a few MacMillan Bloedel officials on board, it looked like there was half a dozen people on the log barge too. We came within about 15 feet of them.
SR - Did the barge stop?
CW - They slowed down. I wasn't going to try to stop them - I didn't want to endanger everybody. We went there for our own purposes, to show them that we are against them. We are going to have that documented. We've got photos of it. We've got film of it. We hope to use that to open up people's eyes about what we are up against here.
If the loggers think we're trying to take away their jobs, we're not. They are not going to have any jobs in ten years at this rate and the logging companyies are shipping out all the jobs anyways. We would like jobs for Islanders far into the future.
After that we would have we would have followed the barge but the tide was going in quite strong. So we came back in and we figured it was mission accomplished. We sat out there just to show them we are against them. We opened up a lot eyes, and we made a lot of friends and a lot of enemies came to the surface.
SR - What is the responsibility of a Haida citizen when you see those logs going by?
CW - What we did was not just to open up the eyes of the company and tell them that we totally disagree them and we regard them as against us. At the same time we wanted to open up the eyes of our people and we wanted to find out who our friends are. I think we've accomplished that. But I know that it is kind of futile to some people to try and stop a barge that is carrying all those trees. We have one canoe and those trees are already dead. What we are doing as citizens of a Haida community is planning our next move.
SR - Is there a role for the non-native on the Islands in this sort of way, taking action with the Haida?
CW - I see a lot of people approach me - and they say 'why don't you guys go do it this way.' If somebody tries to tell me what to do, maybe - I don't mind a suggestion or something.
SR - Are you going to take more action yourself.
CW - What we are going to do is start practicing our traditional rights. We have traditional rights and our people haven't been practising them.
It is not the deer that are killing the cedars. It is the greed of the companies and I am almost scared to identify an area now. I know that it is going be heavily targeted by the companies to cut the last trees down. And they have stated to me that they could cut the top of a CMT (Culturally Modified Tree) or whatever they wanted, but the Ministry of Forests said they couldn't. The CMTs are actually a record of the past, it is what the Haidas have done before, it is a Haida ground and I think those traditional grounds have got to be protected for a whole sustainable 20 square mile area. In those areas I would like to see those trees selectively cut and used for Haida purposes.
SR - Like the Yakoun basin and corridor or the Ian River area, those are the areas you are talking about, where CMT's are heavily concentrated?
CW - I see the Council of the Haida Nation and the Islands Community Stability Initiative has identified a few of those areas, but some of them are not wide enough, especially along the corridor of the Yakoun. If we did selective cutting in there, the corridor, then we might still be doing damage. I'd like to see some intact areas nurtured and so that they can be selectively cut over a few hundred years. Especially those areas. There are probably some cedars that wouldn't be suitable for anything but milling. But I would like to see all the prime cedar saved, all the straight cedar and have it recognized by the companies and to be left and aside for the next two hundred years.
I'd like to see our artists encouraged more. Our artists are pretty well reduced to begging from the companies and I don't think there is one Haida that would be reduced to begging. I don't think they would allow themselves to. I've sent a letters to MacMillan Bloedel and I never got a letter back from them. I've been treated alright when I did go there once or twice. Besides that, it is all lip service.
The Dinan Logger and Seal Hunter, the cedar canoe, watch as the log carrier
moves slowly forward before retreating to anchor
in Port Clements for the night.
SR - It's ironic that you have ask for trees that grow on Haida Gwaii.
CW - Artists are not wealthy. If we get a log from MacMillan Bloedel you are looking at $2,000 - $4,000 dollars, that's one or two months wages. It's almost impossible for an artist to get money ahead. So that's why you don't see very many artists asking for the trees because they know its impossible for them to get that money together, then you gotta move it to. You have to hire a few guys guys, or hire a boat to tow it back to the site where you want it, and hire a skidder to drag it up on land.
Besides carving I would like to see the boat building revived. I would like to see some really high-grade wood set aside for that. At one time a master boat builder would go walking through the woods and mark out each tree that he wanted, which means he would have to go along a creek, a valley and pick out all the timber he needed for each part­p;bow, stem, stern, ribs.
The history of the canoes, canoe logs being found in the Ian and Yakoun watersheds and we could talk about the fact that the only suitable trees are on that area. We have a chance to control what is left there, instead of it all being just cut down without any regard to future generations. When we were about to go in front of the village on the first day we were approached by two of our hereditary chiefs. They discussed the matter of what we were getting ourselves in to. We said, if we don't do something now, what are the future generations going to say about us?
I said nothing is going to stop me from taking my canoe out whenever I please. I said this is a symbolic protest - not because of what is Greenpeace is doing, but because of our own feelings, what we have been feeling all this time seeing two fully loaded log barges leaving our inlet everyweek - for all my life. I'm over 30 now and all my life I've seen that. Maybe a handful of guys around here have jobs. I don't see any benefits coming back to the islands
MacMillan Bloedle employees aborad the Dinan Logger II
video tape the action in Masset Inlet.
SR - What is your main concern with that? Is it trees left standing for carving, or is it jobs, or is it a sustainable Annual Allowable Cut?
CW - It all comes together. Why should we be that quaint little village on the point. This is our land. My fathe has been strong in the way he has taught me about all the wrongs that have been done to our people, that we have to stand up for what we believe is right. Our people have been sitting here and we've, one by one, been criminalized, and we've been made to feel like a foreigner on our land. Our people lived at the Yakoun River for at least six to eight months a year. Now we are only inclined to stay there during the sockeye fishing - one and half months out of a year - in April and May. And they are taking all the trees and we are not getting anything out of that. Our people need the medicines from those forests to really make ourselves strong.
I feel it myself, that is what I am going to have to do for this fall in the Yakoun areas where traditional medicines . . to bring that to the people to give them strength. A lot of young men feel there is not much of a future. There is a lot of wealth in our forests and I don't see any benefits coming to our people at all.
When MacMillan Bloedel and the logging companies were first granted these licences they were promising all these jobs for our people and, of course, slowly over time the jobs got brushed aside and so now we are left with nothing.
The next day the log carrier loaded with cedar passes by Seal Hunter
with the paddles of the crew raised in protest.
SR - If there is no forest are you still Haida?
CW - You see the Haidas have been hit by different things over the past two hundred years that have taken us away from the land. Most of our people have lived in Massett and New Masset for their whole life. They are lucky if they get out to Tow Hill. We travelled from the Bering Sea to California and fished all the way. My grandfather and my dad fished from southern Alaska to Vancouver Island and so we were travelling people. Historically the Haida travelled from the Bering Sea to California. Then the Haida fishing fleet was taken away in the 1950's. We are little bit more mobile now and we were pretty while immobile for 30 years and some people turned to logging and MacMillan Bloedel promised those hundred jobs and they haven't kept up their promise. So our people have been left without any resources.
We are natural wood workers and boat builders. We are naturally good at working with wood. And it will probably be the mainstay of our future.
We are looking at going back. We're not looking at sitting here waiting for more handouts. They call it a handout and we call it pay-back time. We should have been paid taxes for what has been taken off the Islands. But instead we have been repressed.
What we need the cedar for is to enhance our culture. We have never lost our culture, but we want to enhance it, to bring the story back. I think that the world is ready, the world needs the Haida people. All the freedom that everybody is enjoying now, is from the tromping on our ancestors' backs, our peoples' backs.
We are tired of being treated as foreigners in our own land. Most of our people would probably rather have sovereignty than any land claims deal, because we know that is the same old bullshit under another title. I don't seeall the great motivated people giving up the spoils.
SR - How do you feel about it... about the log barge going by. Why did you end up out there in a canoe?
Ralph you were out earlier in a boat a few weeks ago looking at the barge as it went by Old Massett.
Ralph Stocker (RS) - Since South Moresby Gwaii Haanas was protected from the clearcutting the government promised to increase cutting on the rest of Haida Gwaii. Which they have done and have been doing now for over 30 years continuously, as far as the large companies, like MacMillan Bloedel.
It was very empowering when South Moresby took place, the protest and the stopping of the logging companies from destroying that sacred area. I thought it was the beginnings of something that would sweep over the whole islands. But since South Moresby not a single word has been said about the rest of the islands and what's happening on the rest of the islands. I don't know why that is.
People out there on the lower mainland think that Haida Gwaii is safe, that there is no logging up here. They think it is safe and sound.
About 90 per cent of the people I talk to inVancouver ask how is it now that the Haida has stopped them from logging your island. Has unemployment gone down a little bit? How have you been adjusting? I answered that we never stopped them from logging the islands. They have stepped up and increased logging and they have to go 24 hours a day seven days a week.
I watched a valley being cut down for a seven year period in the heart of Haida Gwaii - the Datlamen River Watershed - and it was there that I caught on and started to realize that this was only one watershed, this is only one creek on the islands. As I drove around, and looked around, and flew round, it opened up my mind and eyes and more and more I see that every creek and every watershed on the islands has just about been logged.
CW- What we have been hearing is that a lot of trees are being logged unnecessarily. We have been hearing for the past 20 years that they have been burning a lot of yellow cedar just because there has been no market for it. If they had just given those trees to the Haida, we would probably be quite well off - but instead its burned. That shows what kind of cooperation, what kind of benefits they are giving to islanders - It is nothing at all! Just mowing the trees down with no regard for anything.
SR - In the future, are you talking about moving in to areas and utilizing them in a traditional manner, such as gathering medicine and using the trees. Was the barge action to mark this approach?
CW - It was signalling that we are going to go and start claiming our village sites and our gathering grounds. What we are going to do is go out and practice our rights. We are going to draw a lot of attention to that and show the world that this is the line. It might be the last chance really. I have identified an area where there are many trees that could be harvested over the next 100 years instead of clearcut in five years. So that is what we want to initiate. We are basically going to go there and make our presence known and mark these trees for future use. We would like cooperation with the companies and cooperation of our own people, and I think we'll find this.
The cedar we use for carving is a 500 -700 year old cedar and if all the cedar is cut down within the next ten years, then w've got another 500 years to wait to get cedar again. So I don't think our people are going to be willing to wait that long. What we want to do is nurture what is left and selectively cut the trees as they are needed. Like for our buildings you need trees at a different stage. You need trees in all different age types. For the roof beams we need approximately 150 to 200 year old cedar, for the corner posts a 300-400 year old and for whatever else -for the shakes, the shakes are in 600 year old trees, and canoes up to 700 years. So you need quite a range.
So that is why I want to initiate a moratorium calling certain areas, such as the Canoe Creek area that runs into the Yakoun and the Ian River as well as the Mamin, Datlamen, Waterfall, Auan, Dinan and several other creek systems. What these will actually be... it will be a reserve extending further inland. Where they should have been extended in the first place. The reserves were never done right. They were mapped when everyone was gone fishing. It left the Haida with no natural resources.
This fall I would like to initiate some action to extend ours reserves up river and a moratorium on cutting cedar and maybe we will have to mark out every suitable cedar on the islands. Maybe for future generations - some that will be ready in 200 years.
I feel that we are like a third world country. We hear about down in Thailand where they are cutting down all the forests and they ship it all up to Japan and it is just made into plywood, and they use it once and then they burn it up. That is how they make their cement buildings. And we hear about all our cedar getting shipped over to Japan and they are stockpiling. The cedar is going down to Vancouver Island and supplying 1,000 jobs down there which should be here. After they square off the log it gets shipped over the Pacific. They've got enough cedar over there for the next 500 years. They've got cedar buried under parking lots, sunken into the rivers.
We have not benefitted from MacMillan Bloedel. We don't like the fact that the log barges wear the Haida name. They taunted us, they were taunting us when we were out there, and we are swearing back at them too. .. we told them what they were and we told them that they are stealing. That's what we think, we think that they are stealing from us. We feel the only way to get attention is by protesting in a peaceful way. What we are going to do is practice our aboriginal rights. We are going to be there.
My father actually started a small company. He demanded cedar from Mac and Blo over ten years ago. And that is where the cedar came from - the Yakoun valley. So that is where my canoe comes from. It's from a cedar over 460 years old. That should be recognized more, that we are coming down to the final stands. We can't wait for land claims. So this fall, is our last chance. They are putting roads in right now to cut areas. So we now have a road to blockade (laugh).
The Ministry of Forests, they said they'd help me out there - give a log within 48 hours. I said I wanted an 80 foot log, thick in the middle. They are looking over the whole island and having a pretty hard time.
SR - That says it all. I wonder how many went out on the barge?
CW - They probably cut all the good stuff there. I don't know if they could actually take out a log that big with all the equipment they've got.
With a log that big I could probably employ four guys for a year. Three guys and myself.
SR - What is the length of your canoe?
CW - Over 35. My dad says 36 but it shortened up a little bit when it was steamed. My father built the Seal Hunter in 1986/87. It is actually the model for the big canoe he had planned. It's exactly half the size of the big one he had in mind. It's going to be a 72 foot one, my dad's ancestor built a 72 foot canoe. It was from a tree that was in the Yakoun.
SR - How did you start carving?
CW - I started carving about 20 years ago. My father was a fisherman, but then after he had to give up his last boat. At first my dad taught me but after a few years I learned from my friends and I looked up to other artists. Mainly I looked back to the older artists of the last 100 years. I tried to develop my own style within the older styles.
He started the whole process for me. He taught me how to visualize the canoe in the log. Plus my grandfather got me out on the land when I was younger, hunting and fishing. I leaned a lot from him. He taught me to how too identify a good cedar. He used to be a handlogger - use a big boat to pull the trees out of the woods. He told me a bit about that.
I've been carving for 20 years, mainly in argillite, silver. But the thing I really enjoy the most is carving cedar. It gives me a sense of freedom. It's like when I am working on a big cedar it involves my whole body, not just my hands. Carving the Chief Edenshaw pole - I really enjoyed that. I wish I could carve a pole every year. Some day I probably will or else I'll teach.
You know, a Memorandum of Understanding with ICSI has been going on and the problem with that is it doesn't cover all the areas that I am concerned about. I am concerned about the Canoe creek area and on the south side of that is where the gold mine is so that's more than one thing concerning us.
We never wrecked the land like its happening now. The Haida had a way out with that. We were quite seasonal people in the old times. We would travel. We would all split up in the spring time and go into the different rivers. Some would go work in the forest. So they all dispersed - like natural resources. When we were making too much of an impact on the land we divided. So that's how tribal divisions happened, different branches of the family go away and set up make their own village.
Our village here, we are confined here. It's a whole other problem. It's a social problem. By not having the mobility we are almost incarcerated, because we can't afford to get off here. And then we run in to all the social problems because we have a bigger population on such a small piece of land. There is no way of venting our frustration except inward on ourselves.
What we have to do is get back out on the land area, finding the traditional medicines. That's what I want. When we walk the river I want to find devil's club to strengthen myself.
It's a mystery how did we get that knowledge about the devils club.
We've never lost our culture, there are subtle little things that always come up. We start to understand why we do things the way we do. We start to understand ourselves instead of try to change ourselves. But our communities, they need some industry. That is up to our leadership to find that industry, without having to trample on everybody else. There is plenty of business and we should be able to pick out anything we want to do. Maybe it won't be the whole community. What I am saying is there are traditional lands, and we should be able to go back to those lands so we can develop what's there. There's still the deer there and we gotta find a way of utilizing them, a natural resource. Find a market for them. And our natural resouces such as our fish. That's what I'd like to see. Most of all our great cedar forests must be utilized properly ensuring our future, the future of the Haida and all people who call this place home.
RS -It's pretty over-powering, all these years of government doing this to Massett. It's pretty over-powering stuff. But now to come out fresh and say we've got a future here, we've got life within us. We've got a future we have to worry about, to live for and to die for. It's that serious.