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."