Local members of the Sinixt First Nation and supporters are maintaining a low-key blockade on a Pass Creek logging road to assert what they say is their right to consultation and cultural preservation.
“It’s been pretty diplomatic,” said Dennis Zarelli, communications liaison with the Sinixt, of their interactions with a logging contractor on Mount Sentinel forest service road. “Everybody’s been really good at hearing things out.”
He said their beef is not with the contractor, but with BC Timber Sales, which awarded a license to Porcupine Wood Products of Salmo to build 1.8 kilometers of road and harvest 15,250 cubic meters of timber. “We realize this is causing hardships, but we’re not responsible for that,” Zarelli said. “The government is responsible for making sure First Nations consultations have been addressed.”
He called the area “archaeologically sensitive,” with “a lot of undocumented sites beneficial to everybody.”
Zarelli, Marilyn James, and a few others have visited the site daily over the last week and a half and prevented contractor A.F. Timber Co. from getting through.
Porcupine woodlands manager Bill Kestell said road building had started but logging was not yet underway when the protest took them by surprise. The company plans to apply for an injunction, but it’s unclear when it might be heard.
“It’s frustrating,” said Kestell, who has visited the site several times. “They admit their fight is not with us, but we’re the ones who can’t go to work. The local contractor depends on logging to earn a living, but there’s nothing they can do. The people seem pretty intent on staying there.”
Kestell said the standoff will have an effect on wood volumes at local mills if it’s not resolved soon. Although the company is keeping a presence at the site, at this point, “not a whole lot of productive discussion can go on between them and us.”
The Ministry of Forests said BC Timber Sales did not directly consult the Sinixt, who aren’t officially recognized by the provincial government (see related story below), but they had the same opportunity to comment on the license as other members of the public.
BC Timber Sales did, however, consult with other recognized First Nations who have territorial claims in the area, much to Zarelli’s frustration.
“None of the concerns are being met by any other First Nation,” he says. “They are giving a green light to all of Sinixt territory [even though] we have ethnographical proof of being here. It’s obviously a major issue and to continue ignoring it will make the problem worse.”
Regional director Andy Davidoff said Tuesday he knew logging was planned on Mount Sentinel this winter but was unaware of the dispute with the Sinixt. “If there’s an archaeological site, that has to be addressed with due diligence,” he said, adding that he keeps a watchful eye on such work because of the area’s many surface water systems.
Castlegar RCMP visited the site last Thursday at the company’s request, but did not intervene. “We talked to them. It’s quiet and very polite,” said Sgt. Laurel Mathew.
The Sinixt are planning a pot luck at the site from 1 to 5 p.m. on Friday.
Last summer the Sinixt also protested logging on Perry Ridge, where they maintain a “cultural encampment.”
Sinixt continue fight to be heard
The traditional territory of the Sinixt, also known as the Lakes people, includes the Arrow Lakes, Slocan Valley, and northeast Washington.
Declared extinct in Canada in 1955, the Sinixt have no official standing with the federal or provincial governments but have won a measure of recognition from some crown agencies over the last 25 years.
For instance, according to Zarelli, following the jet fuel spill at Lemon Creek last summer, Sinixt permission was sought and granted for clean-up around archaeological sites.
They have also been recognized to varying degrees by BC Parks, BC Hydro, and FortisBC, and are well known in local communities, especially the Slocan Valley, where members live and have a burial ground.
“It’s not like we’re invisible. We’re definitely known and supported,” Zarelli said. “It’s a deep issue for everybody and we’ll see if truth prevails or ignorance continues.”
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously gave the area to be harvested in square meters, not cubic meters.)