Saving Earth Magazine

GETTING THROUGH THE CHECKPOINT

MACKAI SHARP

- BY MACKAI SHARP - FILMMAKER, PHOTOGRAPH­ER, ADVOCATE, AND GRADE 12 HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT

With the last of my high school courses wrapping up long before graduation, I wanted to take advantage of the weird limbo of being semi-graduated to begin production on a new documentar­y piece. Old-growth forests have long been gone from my community in the north of Vancouver Island, but I began to hear more about these incredible and vital ecosystems across much of the island. As I discovered how quickly these forests were falling off our maps, I began hearing about a grassroots movement of activists uniting in a watershed in the Pacheedaht First Nation at Fairy Creek. Their goal was simple: prevent logging of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek and, presumably, across the whole province. With the little background knowledge I had, I set out to research and begin film production, first speaking with forest defenders who had just returned from the blockades. It was immediatel­y clear to me both how profound this situation was and how urgent of a matter it was becoming. So urgent, in fact, that two days into production the police were already on their way to make arrests. I wasted no time getting down to the Caycuse camp in Fairy Creek.

10:37 P.M., MAY 17, 2021

With the heavy rain illuminate­d by the headlights of the parked cruiser vehicles blocking the short stretch of pavement and preventing access to Caycuse, I approached the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) hoping I could talk my way inside, past the police checkpoint. But much like everyone who came before me, they turned down my requests and instead suggested I return the following morning to speak with their media liaison. So, my friend (and amazing crew member) Zara Nybo and I made our way to join all of those standing in solidarity before the police checkpoint at the entrance of Caycuse. It was here that I spoke with the organizers who were co-ordinating and strategizi­ng their next approach and how they’d best support those inside. They cautioned me that by early morning the situation would escalate, and the arrests would begin.

Being new to this, I didn’t quite understand what all this meant or how profound this clash of beliefs and ideas truly was. I spent the remainder of my evening in Caycuse speaking with those who stayed awake late into the night—other forest defenders, family members, friends, and children. People were rightfully on edge. The RCMP had never tried something to this extent before. Despite the sharp tension, all those standing outside the blockade had high morale and endless passion.

6:00 A.M., MAY 18, 2021

The condensati­on ran down the foggy windows inside our vehicle. It was finally light out and there were lots of voices outside. After suiting up for the drizzle, we were greeted by smiling faces and small groups of people discussing their thoughts and feelings surroundin­g the circumstan­ces. The tension was almost unbearable as some seemed to be getting restless waiting for any movement from inside. I knew my time was limited before things would escalate, so I made my second attempt with the RCMP, pleading with them to let me inside. I assured them that I was legit, but just like the night previous, I was turned away and advised that I wasn’t on their “list.”

When I returned to the makeshift camp beyond the police checkpoint, I was approached by a local man who had heard about my desire to speak with those inside. He took me aside and explained that he had just returned from the other side of the checkpoint.

A FOREST DEFENDER SUSPENDED HIGH ABOVE THE GROUND IN A SLEEPING BAG DURING THE RAIN. PHOTOGRAPH­Y: MACKAI SHARP

There might be a way inside.

Unfortunat­ely, we were interrupte­d by several protesters screaming from the other side of the makeshift camp outside the police checkpoint. “They’re here! They’re here! Block the roads!” The RCMP reinforcem­ents had arrived. More than ten police vehicles idled beyond a makeshift blockade put together by four or five protesters to prevent the police from reaching the checkpoint. A woman approached a Staff Sgt. of the Chilliwack RCMP. He demanded that the protesters clear the road and allow reinforcem­ents to pass or those who stood in the way would be arrested. The woman requested that the officer recite her the injunction, a request dismissed several times. At this point I went beyond this makeshift blockade and wanted to speak with the other officers. I started by asking for badge numbers, but I was dismissed. I asked again, confused why I was being disregarde­d, but was only answered with silence.

8:45 A.M., MAY 18

The police reinforcem­ents got through, and word got out that the media was about to be let in. I knew I had minutes to find a solution, or I wouldn’t get to speak with those inside. CBC, CTV, and several other networks awaited entry beside a new police officer I hadn’t seen before. With one last shot, I approached the RCMP and explained my case, pleading with them to let me inside. Shockingly, I was able to convince the officer I was real and was allowed to pass the police checkpoint. This was a rare chance to see inside. All other independen­t media had been turned away, and now I felt the weight on my shoulders to capture what was happening inside for all those who could not.

9:50 A.M., MAY 18

We were greeted at the first real blockade by a man singing and playing his guitar while an older woman stood beside him waving a sign reading “Grandmothe­r for Old-Growth”.

With every strum of his guitar, the forest defender slashed through the tension. With his music he settled the situation as if accepting what was about to take place. I learned his name was Mitchell and he had come to Fairy Creek from Vancouver.

He told me that he was there “to take the last stand.” When I asked him his thoughts about being arrested, he replied, “Ultimately, I know we are doing the right thing, and that fills my heart with joy. There have been moments of trials and tribulatio­ns with every movement that we have had, and I think as this continues to unfold the truth will come out and we’ll be on the right side of history.”

After speaking with him, the RCMP literally threw several copies of the injunction at the protesters and cautioned them they would be subject to arrest if they chose to stay. It wasn’t clear to what extent they would be persecuted. After ten long minutes of stillness, the RCMP grabbed both Mitchell and the grandmothe­r forest defender by the arms and led them to a police vehicle.

11:15 A.M., MAY 18

Ahead of me was a metal gate that blocked off the road. This was the second blockade. Attached to it was a woman—Rainbow Eyes—with a vibrant red handprint across her face. She was wearing a woven hat that appeared to be made from cedar. She had chained her neck to the gate and cemented her arm inside the PVC pipe. Attached to the other end of the pipe was a man—Brandon—who had also cemented his arm. The police wanted to advance through the blockades as swiftly as they could and only allowed me to speak with these defenders for five minutes. I asked what Rainbow Eyes wanted those outside of the blockade to know, and she responded: “Listen. The trees are calling. There’s nothing on the news, nothing in the government. You listen to your heart, and you know what is right to do.”

She continued, “It is a connection to ancestors, to the Earth, to spirits. The old-growth represents so much for connecting to the land in a way that we’ve forgotten,” she added before being interrupte­d by a police officer who explained that they were subject to arrest if they chose to keep themselves “in the way.” He threw more copies of the injunction onto the ground before stepping away to count down the minutes till their arrest. When the time ran out, several officers hid Rainbow Eyes and Brandon behind tarps to prevent us from witnessing their arrest. They were eventually removed and detained.

12:19 P.M., MAY 18

I ran ahead of the police line as I knew my time inside was limited. I made my way past several structures built by the defenders before stopping at the bridge crossing. Before me was a massive slice from an old-growth tree. The slice stood on its side with all its thousands of years of rings on display. On either side of the tree sat two women, both chained to the bridge. Behind them was another woman, suspended high in the air between three large wooden pikes, and beneath her, a man had cemented part of his body to the ground.

I briefly spoke with several of these forest defenders, but it was clear down here, the energy was more of concern. Soon after, I was escorted out of the Caycuse blockade by the RCMP, and I joined everyone on the outside once again.

There was a real consistenc­y on the ground among all who were there on behalf of the ancient trees. They were in the moment, passionate, assertive, and inclusive. There is no debating the true sense of togetherne­ss and community that was generated in the adversity of protest. They are an ecosystem within an ecosystem.

“Customaril­y, our people—the Pacheedaht First Nation—we all had to respect the forest and only go inside for prayer and meditation,” said Elder Bill Jones. “Wherever there was forest, it was holy. Now the logging companies want to log the last of the ancient forests within the Pacheedaht First Nation and that happens to be Fairy Creek—one of our holiest mountains.”

While the protestors are a community, there is no doubt whether the conversati­on about old-growth forests is divided, polarized, and quickly escalating. But within this debate, we must remind ourselves of the historical context that has systematic­ally justified much of what has persisted until today. It is now that we will see an important decision from our provincial NDP government. Will it side with their campaign promises that granted them the privilege to run our province or with the unions that fund their party? Does our premier value the longevity of his constituen­ts’ support or the economic push of wiping the remaining three percent of old-growth off the map of Beautiful British Columbia? Over the coming months we will see where his values lie.

 ??  ?? A FOREST DEFENDER BLOCKS THE ROAD BY LAYING ON THE GROUND WITH HIS ARM LOCKED INTO A DEVICE THAT IS CEMENTED INTO THE ROAD. PHOTOGRAPH­Y: MACKAI SHARP
A FOREST DEFENDER BLOCKS THE ROAD BY LAYING ON THE GROUND WITH HIS ARM LOCKED INTO A DEVICE THAT IS CEMENTED INTO THE ROAD. PHOTOGRAPH­Y: MACKAI SHARP
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada