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Between the lines

Maclean Kay: The Pacheedaht First Nation’s official memo to the Capital Regional District was about as pointed as official memos get.

Can an official memo be hostile – condescending, even? Turns out yes.

The subject here is a contentious one: the Fairy Creek dispute. If you’re unfamiliar, Fairy Creek is one of southern Vancouver Island’s very last intact stands of old growth forest. A small portion is slated for timber harvesting, and crucially, the parcel in question is on Pacheedaht traditional territory. Not incidentally, the Pacheedaht have several benefit and management agreements in place with the province and the logging firm.

Unswayed and undeterred, outside protesters have blocked logging roads for months, ignoring not only court injunctions, but more recently, requests from the Pacheedaht themselves to go home.

There’s considerably more detail I could go into here, including competing positions from Pacheedaht elders – both named Jones – who both claim the other doesn’t speak for the nation, one telling the activists to leave; the other saying please stay. And while this is indeed confusing, it should not be surprising; expecting the Pacheedaht or any other community to share one unanimous opinion is as reasonable as expecting your mayor to win 100% of the vote.

The latest development in this saga took place this week, after the Capital Regional District (CRD) Board proposed a motion to work with the Pacheedaht and the province to halt old-growth logging on southern Vancouver Island.

The Pacheedaht responded with a memo – a phrase which cannot begin to express the contempt contained within. The headline of the story I just linked is First Nation tells CRD board to stay out of Fairy Creek logging issue. Accurate, in the same way your dentist says, “you may experience some discomfort.” (It’s linked here on page 14 of the latest CRD agenda.)

As far as official memoranda between governing bodies go – this is essentially two middle fingers.

Even when relationships between two governments descend into open hostility – think Peter Lougheed and Pierre Trudeau; John Horgan and Rachel Notley; Penticton and David Eby – official communications maintain a level of dry, detached, professionalism. Part official proclamation, part legalese, part owner’s manual for a major appliance.

With that in mind, allow me to make the subtext clear. Pacheedaht memo in quotes, my subtext in italics:

“Please read, digest and understand the statement provided by Pacheedaht First Nation dated April 12th 2021. A copy is attached to this memorandum for your convenience. We believe that the statement makes our Nation’s position abundantly clear. CRD has had ample time to inquire and seek clarification.”

We already told you our position. Maybe read it and stop wasting your time and ours.

“Pacheedaht does not welcome unsolicited interference or involvement from others.”

Go away.

“Please provide in the form of written evidence, confirmation of the extent to which the legal jurisdiction and capacity of BC Regional Districts (including the CRD) includes: Forest management; First Nations matters including landscape planning, community planning, economic development; and Park designation and acquisition.”

We know you have no jurisdiction here. YOU know you have no jurisdiction here. But by all means, go ahead and pay a pack of constitutional lawyers. They’ll tell you the same thing.

“Please explain in writing how CRD is compelled to develop policy or otherwise take action that will affect CRD residents in response to lobbying received from distant, unrelated municipal governments, and please explain how such lobbying could compel CRD to continue to ignore the clearly-articulated positions of First Nations, including Pacheedaht.”

Do Vancouver or Winnipeg tell you what to do? No? Let’s pause here, and let you connect the dots. Take your time.

“Pacheedaht First Nation strongly encourages CRD to continue to focus on policy, planning and service delivery, and to work with our Nation and the nearby communities on priority matters within CRD jurisdiction.”

Stay in your lane, and we’ll keep getting along just fine.

“In the event that Pacheedaht First Nation determines at some point in the future that our Nation would benefit from increased involvement from CRD in the stewardship of our Traditional Territory, we will contact you.”

When the phone doesn’t ring, you’ll know it was us.

Supplemental Memorandum from Pacheedaht to CRD dated May 10 2021

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca