A logging blockade was set up on December 2, 2021, to stop WestFor from cutting endangered moose habitat in south western Nova Scotia. Photo by Crystal Greene
Logging blockade in Mi'kma'ki for climate justice and conservation
“We don’t take without leaving something behind; that’s our Mi’kmaw way.” - Darlene Gilbert
By Crystal Greene
A major outcome from Cop26 was the fact that climate change and biodiversity crises are linked and must be dually addressed. In Mi’kma’ki Territory, within what is also known as Nova Scotia, it is deforestation through industrial logging which is the tipping point for climate change and endangered species.
Darlene Gilbert is a Mi’kmaw grandmother who has no problem confronting industry and government who are the major polluters.
“As a Mi’kmaw I’m here to talk to you about what you’re doing, the moose, our medicines, the land, the mess that you’re going to leave afterwards because you’re just tearing trees up and cutting them down,” said Gilbert in a video, speaking to representatives of WestFor Management Inc., an industrial forestry consortium with 13 mills operating in Nova Scotia, which generate $2 billion a year.
“We don’t take without leaving something behind, that’s our Mi’kmaw way,” adds Gilbert, referring to ‘Netukulimk’ the traditional Mi’kmaq law of sustainable harvesting.
In the video are Breck Stuart, general manager, and Spencer Coulstring, community relations coordinator for WestFor. Gilbert had a chance encounter with them on a logging road leading to Rocky Point Lake in Digby County, the area where WestFor resumed clear-cutting on Sept 30, 2021, after a pause due to public pressure.
Gilbert asks about consultation with the Mi’kmaq. Stuart tells Gilbert that WestFor is not responsible, but that the province does it on behalf of WestFor with the Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs of Nova Scotia. He tells her that Leroy Denny is expected to visit. Denny is the chief of Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton and holds the environmental portfolio for the Assembly.
In October 2020, the Mi’kmaq Chiefs called for a moratorium on clearcutting in south western Nova Scotia because it was endangering the habitats of mainland moose, whose numbers are down from 15,000 to 700. The dwindling forests provide them winter shelter and summer shade.
Citing traditional law, Netukulimk, the Chief’s organization also made reference to their Section 35 rights. In the statement, the Chiefs called for implementation of the 2018 Lahey Report, which calls for an overhaul of industry forestry practices in Nova Scotia, echoing what Nova Scotia environmental groups have been saying for years. One of the Lahey Report recommendations is for the Nova Scotia government and WestFor to respect Netukulimk.
Recently, the NS government passed Bill 57, called the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, which will see the Lahey recommendations pushed back another two years.
In December 2020, nine people from the Extinction Rebellion movement were arrested at a Rocky Point Lake blockade where they had been stopping WestFor since October 2020. Since this recent video by Gilbert, members of Extinction Rebellion say that access to the logging road around Rocky Point Lake has been cut off because WestFor does not want people going there, and WestFor had been awarded a permanent injunction in March 2021 by the court prohibiting people from blockading logging roads at two sites.
“WestFor is busy, the government is busy saying, ‘Well we’ve already approved the harvest and it’s too late to stop it,’ but that’s not true, we got here before they started cutting it and they don’t have to start." - Nina Newington
Almost one year later after the arrests, Extinction Rebellion has not given up. Now, they are acting on a social media post made by a local hunter and trapper named Randy Neily who is desperate to save the forest around Beals Brook where he has been going since childhood.
On Dec. 2, a blockade camp was set up to prevent WestFor from starting work at the new site slated for “shelterwood” cutting, which means taking 30 per cent now and then cutting the rest down two to 10 years later.
The Beals Brook area parcel is 24 hectares, a small area that is now surrounded by clear-cut blocks. Its 80-year-old trees are mostly oak and pine trees, with some sugar maples, surrounded by three bogs that are a wildlife corridor for the moose and other species.
“It’s kind of the last refuge for wildlife,” said Nina Newington of the Extinction Rebellion, while sitting inside of Neily’s cabin. The area is called “The Last Hope Wildlife Corridor,” where people would come to hunt moose after deforestation and farmlands had wiped out most of the mainland moose in Nova Scotia.
Newington explained that this same 24 hectares was saved from logging 20 years ago. “The moose were still here, so for all that time this has been good habitat for the wildlife and now they want to take it away and we’re not willing to accept that happening,” added Newington.
“WestFor is busy, the government is busy saying, ‘Well we’ve already approved the harvest and it’s too late to stop it,’ but that’s not true, we got here before they started cutting it and they don’t have to start,” insisted Newington.
“What is going to be left for our future generations, to collect medicines if our lands are destroyed?" - Darlene Gilbert
Three endangered species have been seen around the parcel that WestFor wants to cut: the wood turtle, the pine marten, and the mainland moose.
The new camp at Beals Brook drew the interest of Gilbert who arrived there weeks after confronting WestFor about clearcutting around Rocky Point Lake.
“I came back in concern for the unceded Mi’kmak’i Territory…I’m wondering where the consultation is on our lands being cleared…where this wood is gonna go, why this ecosystem needs to be destroyed,” said Gilbert while sitting on a lawn chair in the middle of the road at Beals Brook.
Gilbert is experienced with climate justice and water protection, as she was part of the Stop Alton Gas movement where a Treaty Truckhouse was set up on the Shubenacadie River about 40 minutes from Halifax. The ‘truck house’ clause of the Peace and Friendship Treaty signings was to ensure that the Mi’kmaq titleholders would have access to trading posts on their lands.
She made regular trips over four years to occupy the Truckhouse. Despite defenders being arrested in April 2019, their stand was a success. The Alberta-based Alton Gas announced in October 2021 that they were ending the project, which would have seen fracked gas stored in underground salt caverns at the Shubenacadie River with brine being dumped into the river, which has been used by the Mi’kmaq for 13,000 years as traditional fishing grounds.
“What is going to be left for our future generations, to collect medicines if our lands are destroyed?” asks Gilbert. She wants a Mi’kmaq conservation group formed to physically oversee all forestry operations, on the ground, in Nova Scotia.
"…we started to figure out how to work together…otherwise sitting at home and despairing is really not much fun." - Nina Newington
When asked about what is it that non-Indigenous and Indigenous Peoples need to do to mitigate or stop the climate catastrophe and the biodiversity crisis, both Newington and Gilbert agree that unity amongst all people is necessary.
So far there has not been a lot of Indigenous people blockading WestFor in Nova Scotia. However, the Mi’kmaq are known for their stance with Alton Gas, anti-fracking protests in Rexton County of NB, the Salmon War in Quebec, and self-determination through moderate livelihood fisheries.
“I’m here to ally up with the Extinction Rebellion that started this blockade, out of respect to the people that can help us…we work together to protect the lands,” said Gilbert.
These sentiments echo the Seventh Fire prophecies that have been shared by many Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island, that humankind is currently at a fork in the road, either they choose to be divided, or unite, in order to save the Earth.
“It’s an amazing crew of people out here…a whole lot of different people who all care about the same thing, which is protecting the Earth…we started to figure out how to work together…otherwise sitting at home and despairing is really not much fun,” said Newington.
The link between clear-cutting and climate change
Soils and trees contain carbon which get released into the atmosphere when they are disturbed or cut down. These emissions add to the world’s increasing temperature, which is the cause of intensifying storms, quakes and floods, such as in B.C. with the floods, and December tornados in the United States. Many scientists agree that the Earth’s remaining forests must be intact so that the climate and biodiversity crises do not go beyond the point of no return. There is a consensus that it is Indigenous Peoples who are on the forefront of climate change.
Crystal Greene is Anishinaabekwe, born and raised in Winnipeg, and is currently living in Kjipuktuk – Halifax. She is studying media and communications through the First Nations University of Canada.