The Georgia Straight
August 19, 1994
By Ian Gill
Toward the end of August, a small delegation of Native leaders from northern B.C. will go looking for a vital piece of their cultural heritage in, of all places, Sweden. Actually, they won't have to look too hard. The Haisla people of Kitamaat village already know where to go to find a totem pole that was prised out of their ancestral territory earlier this century by a zealous Swedish consul who wanted to take home a gift to his people. The pole is on display at Sweden's Folkens Museum, the national museum of ethnography in Stockholm. It has been a fixture there since 1928, and for a few kroner, the Haisla are as welcome as anyone else in the world to take a gander at a piece of their past. But the Haisla don't expect to be charged an entrance fee when they get to the museum, and they want to do more than just look at the pole. They want to bring it home, home to a place they call the Kitlope.
"I think it's a building block for us," said Gerald Amos, former chief of the Haisla Nation and the Haisla's main spokesperson. "Our people need [the pole] to reconnect with our culture." When the totem pole does return to its rightful place, in the Kitlope Valley, it will be raised once again to look over an area that's changed little since the pole was first erected in the 1890s. Indeed, the Kitlope—located 100 kilometres southeast of Kitimat—has changed little in the 9,000 or so years that the Haisla have lived there. What's more, a decision announced last Tuesday that preserves most of the Kitlope region means the pole will stand sentinel over land that should be little altered for thousand's more years to come. The Haisla aren't just getting back a totem pole. Thanks to Tuesday's decision, they're getting back the very wellspring of their culture: their land.
In a lounge of the legislature Tuesday, Premier Mike Harcourt waxed somewhat lyrical about the Kitlope, considering he's never been there. "One of the world's great natural and cultural treasures," Harcourt called it. He might have added that it's turned out to be one of the NDP government’s great political treasures as well. Having long waded in the thankless morass of B.C.'s land-use wars, Harcourt was positively atwitter at the sight of a room stacked with Natives, environmentalists, and a leading forest-company executive, all speaking as one about the "historic" pact that saved the Kitlope. The government's decision to preserve the area, Harcourt said, "ensures that this unique rain forest, with trees over 800 years old, will never be logged." The premier announced that 317,000 hectares (about 800,000 acres) of Haisla territory will be preserved and — when all the details are ironed out — comanaged by the Haisla and the government.
The announcement fell 20 percent short of what the Haisla and environmentalists had worked for, which was preservation of fully one million acres in the greater Kitlope ecosystem. Last-minute horse-trading meant that the northwest corner of the Kitlope system, 200,000 acres in the Kowesas and Barrie watersheds, was hived off and excluded from Tuesday's deal. The forest industry still aspires to log there. "We've got mills that require specific volumes timber…and without the Kitlope it's going to be a very tight situation," said Hank Ketcham, president of West Fraser Timber Co. "So we need the volume that's left."
But Amos predicts that, eventually, the Kowesas and Barrie watersheds will also be preserved. And Amos, unlike some other Native leaders in B.C., is absolutely insistent that "preserving" the Kitlope means just that. This is not a ruse, he says, for the Haisla to get timber rights and become loggers on their own land. "There will be no logging in the Kitlope," he said Tuesday. The Haisla commitment, from day one, has been that there will be industrial development there. In the Kitlope Declaration, published in 1991, the Haisla First Nation said, in part: "We do not own this land so much as the land owns us. The land is part of us and we are part of the land. It is given to us only as a trust: to live within its boundaries in beauty and harmony; to nourish our bodies and our spirits with its gifts and to protect it from harm." A huge step toward protecting the Kitlope from harm was taken on Tuesday, and, as a result, the lion's share of what is thought to be the world's largest intact coastal temperate rain forest will remain just that — intact.
Pinch yourself. Almost one million acres! Just like that! Do not adjust your set: you may never have heard of the Kitlope, a placard has never been waved in its defense, and no one has gone to jail. Hell, Svend Robinson hasn't even been there! But, sure enough, most of it has been preserved, and it's expected that the rest will follow. So how on earth did that happen? How did an area bigger than all Clayoquot Sound quietly get set aside with none of the usual rancour? Why none of the visceral, hyperbolic, and oftentimes tedious debate over land use and conservation that we've come to expect from the battle over our valleys? Are people going soft around here or what? Actually, the story of how the Kitlope came to be preserved is hugely instructive, especially at a time when all sides in B.C.'s long-running woods wars are getting bored even by the sound of their own rhetoric.
For centuries, the Haisla people trod lightly on their ancestral lands. They hunted, fished, and traded in the Kitlope Valley. (Kitlope is a Tsimshian word meaning "People of the Rocks".) Occasionally they were called upon to defend it against marauding Haida warriors. The Haisla lived and died in the Kitlope's sometimes gentle, often harsh, embrace. They doubtless didn't have Gro Harlem Bruntland's views on sustainability in mind at the time, but they "sustainability managed the resources of the Kitlope ecosystem for generations", according to a chronology prepared by the U.S. conservation group Ecotrust. Europeans disturbed this rhythmic pattern, of course, and smallpox almost ended it. About 90 percent of the Kitlope's indigenous population was wiped out by disease, and the survivors moved to Kitamaat village to the north of the Kitlope watershed.
Predictably, the Haisla fell victim to many of the depredations of colonization. Unemployment. Alcoholism. Suicide. All of it ugly; none of it news anymore. But by dint of its remoteness and the harshness of the surrounding country, the Kitlope itself was left alone, even as huge swaths of the province were being gutted at every other turn. It's as if the Kitlope were one of those places on a map of New Guinea, unexplored and forbidding, marked "Obscured by Clouds". For most people in B.C., the Kitlope simply didn't exist. Obscured by ignorance.
Ironically, the first—the only—industrial incursion into the Kitlope came at the hands of the Haisla themselves when, in the 1970s, they logged about 20 hectares on an unoccupied Native reserve to help pay for a new recreation centre. They didn't just log it; they clearcut it. Band leaders admit now that it was a mistake that will never be repeated.
That aside, the Kitlope was in a pristine state when, in the late 1980s, Eurocan and West Fraser Timber Co. set about trying to log it. (Eurocan owned the pulp mill in Kitimat, and West Fraser owned a sawmill in Terrace; since then, Fraser has bought out Eurocan to become the sole forest company with an interest in the Kitlope’s timber supply.) At West Fraser's Skeena Sawmills in Terrace, woods manager Vic Maskulak recalled being on the verge of logging the Kitlope in 1988 before running smack into the People of the Rocks. "It was planned to go," Maskulak said. "All of a sudden, things turned around, things came to a halt."
Gerald Amos recalls: "We, were at odds with each other right away."
At about the same time that the Haisla and the companies were squaring off for a setpiece B.C. resources tussle, a couple of American conservationists were retiring from the global tropical-rain-forest crusade and turning their attention to what they would come to call "the rain forests of home". Spencer Beebe, and Ken Margolis branched away from Conservation International to form Ecotrust, an organization based in Portland, Oregon, that's widely credited with having "discovered" the Kitlope, at least from a conservation perspective. Ecotrust began mapping the world's coastal temperate rain forests in 1989 and quickly found "that over half of it was gone", Beebe said. Long gone from western Ireland and western Scotland; gone from Iceland, Norway, and Japan. Still present in the Australian state of Tasmania, in New Zealand, in Chile, and on the west coast of North America. Still present, but disappearing fast.
Ecotrust scanned satellite maps and soon realized that although there were still many pristine watersheds strung along the Americas' western littoral, none of them exceeded 5,000 hectares (which B.C.'s Wilderness Advisory Committee of 1986 considered to be the minimum size appropriate for an area to be called a wilderness). "We found to our shame there were none left [south of the 49th parallel]," Margolis said. "It's all gone." But not so in B.C., or at least not yet.
In 1990, Margolis latched onto the Kitlope, far and away the largest region of its kind that didn't bear the telltale satellite-photo blotches that translate on the ground into clearcuts. In the summer of 1990, Ecotrust president Spencer Beebe called the Haisla band office in Kitamaat. "I asked if someone could show us around," Beebe recalled.
"Before the Ecotrust people came, I had a dream," said Cecil Paul, a serene and soft-spoken Haisla elder. "I was reaching out for help to save the Kitlope, and reaching down to help me was a white hand. When the whites told me this was the largest untouched forest of its type remaining, I realized that my dream had come true."
Recalled Beebe: "I think they'd been feeling kinda lonely and we kinda fell out of the sky about that time. Literally. I flew in."
When Beebe reached out to help the Haisla, the first people he met were elders Cecil Paul and Charlie Shaw and the elected chief at the time, Gerald Amos. The first thing they did was take Beebe fishing in the Kitlope, and he remembers them hauling salmon aboard their boat like they were going out of style (which, where Beebe comes from, they pretty much have). Beebe realized the map hadn't lied — that the Kitlope was huge, and untouched. What's more, it was positively vibrating with life.
All six species of salmon swim in the waters of the Kitlope, and its streams dish up abundant Dolly Varden and, rumour has it, large schools of prime sea-run cutthroat trout. Oolichan, a fish long coveted by Natives for its oil and flavour, is found in only 15 rivers in B.C., five of which run through Haisla territory. Thanks to industry (notably Eurocan's pulp mill in Kitimat), only two of the Haisla's oolichan runs remain healthy: the Kitlope and Kowesas rivers. Throughout the Kitlope ecosystem, scientists have identified: 120 species of birds, including marbled murrelets and black merlins; 130 plants of cultural significance to the Haisla; mountain goats, moose, beavers, grizzlies and black bears; countless insect species; bats, pygmy shrews, a even tailed frog species richness the distinguishing characteristic of the coastal temperate rain forest — "the cycling of water between land and sea", as Beebe has written — in the Kitlope's rich floodplains, steep-sided mountain slopes, alpine meadows, and complex estuaries. Coastal temperate rain forests are marked by proximity to the ocean, the presence of high mountains, and high rainfall levels, all of which combine to result in a dynamic exchange between marine and terrestrial environments. They are among the most productive of all ecosystems on Earth, accumulating as much as 500 to 2,000 metric tonnes of organic matter per hectare, compared to 100 or so tonnes per hectare in tropical rain forests. In the case of the Kitlope, the forest is characterized by Sitka spruce, western hemlock, amabalis fir (balsam), and yellow cedar, along with some stands of Douglas fir. To conservationists, any large coastal temperate rain forest is a prize to be cherished. For Ecotrust, homing in on the Kitlope was like finding an inexhaustible source of manna. "This is the one place where you can find it all," Margolis said. "It's a kind of museum of an ecotype, and I don't think there's a more important place on the coast of North America."
So Ecotrust found its dream forest, and Cecil Paul's dream came true. At the end of his first trip to the Kitlope, Beebe recalled, "I stated right up front what we wanted the outcome to be." Preservation, but not just preservation. Ecotrust champions what it calls "capacity building", which goes beyond the single act of preserving an area and looks for ways to develop an area's cultural, educational, scientific, and economic potential. Critical to all this is developing human potential, the "social element", as Margolis put it. "It's a full-scale human effort; it's not just some tree huggers." In other words, Ecotrust didn't just want to lock up the area in a park. "We started out assuming that this is Haisla territory, they own it, and we were going to help manage it," Margolis said.
For their part, the Haisla realized Ecotrust had something to offer, and the two came together as naturally, and, as forcefully, as the confluence of two rivers. "From the outset, we were quite taken with what they proposed," Amos said. "It wasn't another instance of people dropping in and saying, 'Here's what we want to do, do you want to follow us?'" The Western Canada Wilderness Committee got involved for a short spell, adding the Kitlope to its publications, and Greenpeace looked in at one point. But it was Ecotrust that picked up the Kitlope ball and never dropped it. "We were the only organization, day by day, systematically slogging away with the Haisla, and that's what it takes," Beebe said. "We helped build a momentum that nobody could deny." And that happened without hysteria, blockades, or predictable histrionics of the us-versus-them B.C. land-use debate. "If we had followed the traditional approach, it would have been a valley battle and it would have been environmentalists versus industry." Banging heads, Beebe felt, would have driven industry into a corner, boxed it in, and forced it to respond in kind. Instead, "We never picked a fight; we developed a process."
One of the first things Ecotrust did was sponsor an inventory of the coastal watersheds of B.C. It was an attempt to get away from the "last unlogged watershed syndrome" of environmentalists claiming each new valley is the last of its kind in the universe and industry ridiculing them for it. The inventory by Keith Moore was sober, analytical, and unemotional, and it confirmed the Kitlope's preeminence as a jewel in an increasingly tarnished crown. In May of 1991, the Haisla and Ecotrust cosponsored a cultural and scientific reconnaissance of the Kitlope, which identified some of its myriad assets. In January 1992, they met with provincial cabinet ministers to open discussions of the Kitlope's fate, but it was in April of that year that they did something really radical: when they convened a workshop on future management of the region, they invited representatives from West Fraser. Beebe said Ecotrust and the Haisla took pains to bring company people in on meetings and to share their publications with them. Beebe even had lunch with Hank Ketcham at the UBC Faculty Club. Both survived each other and the food.
Unlike many conservation groups, Ecotrust has money and isn't afraid to put it where its mouth has been. So in 1992, while campaign momentum was beginning to build on the political front, Ecotrust was seeding the "local capacity" that would help all the Haisla — not just the community's leaders — to buy into its vision. Forty Native and non-Native kids were involved in a two-week rediscovery camp, a tangible step toward building a sense of community in a generation that was otherwise largely adrift. By September, a wilderness-planning framework was published, promoting tangible alternatives to resource extraction: rediscovery camps, ecosystem research, guided ecological and cultural tourism, and wildlife viewing. This same report suggested that because of the high cost of getting at the Kitlope's best timber, logging would be "a money-losing operation for the company holding cutting rights". Not so, said Russ Clinton, West Fraser's woodlands vice president. "Clearly in the better [economic] cycles, more remote areas are economic [to log]. As time goes on, it becomes more economic to harvest in those areas."
West Fraser conceded the Kitlope ecosystem had features that should be conserved. It offered to preserve 100,000 hectares (about 250,000 acres) if it could log elsewhere in the system. In fact, the company intended to "tread" on just three percent of the overall land base, Clinton said, although he acknowledged that was a double-edged sword. "Environmentalists say, 'If you are going to tread an [only] three percent of the area, why tread on any of it?'" Clinton then expressed some frustration. "What makes it so special? Other than the fact it's undeveloped, what's so special?" Well, an industrial forester might not see it quite the same way others do, but the "fact it's undeveloped" makes it remarkable in this province. Certainly the Haisla thought so. So special that in early 1993, when the company came up with its next gambit, the People of the Rocks were resolute in refusing a pretty tasty offer. The company offered to let the Haisla run its entire Kitlope operation, guaranteeing 50 jobs to people who sorely need them. The Haisla replied: there will be no Kitlope operation. Amos admitted that, at first, there were some Haisla people who said, "Let's not be hasty, let's look at the possibility of us taking some economic benefit." But once the global significance of the area was explained to the people, Amos said, everyone was prepared to reject West Fraser's entreaty. "To a person, there was no hesitancy that it was the right decision."
About this time, Ecotrust and the Haisla set up the Nanakila Institute. Nanakila is a Haisla word meaning "to guard; to watch over". Again, more of that "capacity building". The institute is training Natives to act as conservation officers in Haisla territory. It's also the key organization through which the Haisla will direct research, tourism, and what Ecotrust calls "conservation-based economic development". This was all in place in the summer of last year when Ecotrust and the Haisla invited then–environment minister (now in charge of Aboriginal Affairs) John Cashore into the Kitlope for a firsthand took at what they were on about. I went along, reporting for CBC-TV.
It was a brilliant day. The skies were painted bright blue where, for weeks, there had been only clouds and incessant rain. It had been a miserable summer, but suddenly the whole palette of the Kitlope was laid out in splendid relief. Cashore was guided up the Kitlope River in a boat piloted by Cecil Paul. When they reached the mouth of Kitlope Lake, the boat stopped and Cashore was instructed to wash his face in a ritual demanded of every first-time visitor to the Kitlope. The water — utterly clean and free of pollutants — is splashed on the face to make the visitor's eyes clear, the better to absorb the beauty of the Kitlope.
Cashore and Cecil Paul proceeded up the lake, laughing and chatting with the ease of old friends. In fact, they'd met only once before, but they had an enduring connection. When Cashore was a United Church minister in the North decades ago, he and his wife had fostered, then ultimately adopted, a baby girl they named Cecilia. Cecil Paul was her father. The two men talked quietly into the evening, faces tit by a fire on the beach. And Cecil Paul told Cashore, "the father of my daughter" what the Kitlope meant to him. "To me, this valley is my cathedral; I come here to worship. I strongly say what my people want, which is to share this valley with the people of the universe, to come and see what the Creator has left. And I hope when you people leave, you will carry a piece of the Kitlope in your heart."
Cashore was clearly touched, and the next day, as we floated on a raft down the Tezwa River, he told me the Kitlope "is a reminder of the absolute wonder of Creation, whatever one's belief about that Creation might be. Here we are right in the midst of it and we're reminded that it's not a static thing, it's a dynamic thing, and we're a part of that. And we can either be a part of that which is intrusive and destructive, or a part of it that is sustainable and hopeful."
One got the sense that if it were Cashore's call alone, the Kitlope announcement would have taken place right then, in August 1993. In fact, it took another year.
Stung by the severity of the reaction to its Clayoquot Sound decision last year, the provincial government looked for a way to appease the "greens" both inside and outside government. In some ways, the Kitlope was perfect, except for West Fraser's continued insistence that it was either going to log there or demand equal timber rights elsewhere in a province that's clean out of elsewheres. Remember, this is a government that's obsessed with polls and has been trying to steer through rho shoals of public opinion with a: carrot-and-stick hucksterism that would make even Huey Long (or at least W.A.C. Bennett) blanch behind his suspenders. So after Harcourt got through doing some Greenpeace-bashing in Europe in February, a Kitlope announcement was said to be pending as a sop to environmentalists. In fact, there was still no announcement to make, because industry hadn't played out its hand.
In May of this year, Jack Munro of the industry-backed B.C. Forest Alliance lumbered up to Terrace at the invitation of the local chamber of commerce. He was joined by Mike Morton, who runs the industry-backed Share B.C. group out of Ucluelet. Bruce Hill, now director of the Nanakila Institute but for 20 years a logger and an IWA member, went to a meeting designed to kick-start a new Share chapter in Terrace. "I felt kind of offended," Hill said. "This is a very unpolarized community and this was an attempt by our civic leaders to polarize the community." It didn't work.
Munro reportedly gave his standard spiel about how multinational environmentalists care not a fig for the workingman, about how the people with the most to lose from conserving wilderness were workers and their families, the "people behind the trees", as the Forest Alliance likes to call them. So Hill got up and said, "We lost 25,000 jobs when you were president [of the IWA], Jack, so if you're so concerned about our jobs, where were you before?" Munro "left with his tail between his legs", Hill said. "Share just couldn't get a foothold in this community, and we hear through the grapevine that basically that was the last straw for the company when they realized they couldn't get any support in the community for the Kitlope."
Hank Ketcham claims no single group and no single event turned the tide in the company's thinking, adding somewhat wryly in an interview this week, "It was an evolutionary process, no question about it." In any event, in June this year, Ketcham wrote to the government and surrendered West Fraser's claim to log the Kitlope. The government warmed up its publicity machinery for an announcement on July 16, which is Parks Day in B.C.
Then came what a senior official called "the hiccup" over the adjoining Kowesas watershed. West Fraser had originally said it would magnanimously forgo its rights to log the Kitlope, and, what's more, the company wouldn't demand compensatory cutting rights elsewhere. But then it said it wanted the Kowesas. When the Haisla flat-out refused to budge on the whole million acres, the government started to play bully. Take what we're offering or you get nothing at all, the Haisla were told. Ecotrust and the Haisla were left to assess whether to grab what they could from the relatively sympathetic NDP or to hold out and risk losing the lot if Harcourt falls to Gordon Campbell next year. They took the prudent route.
Even though it fell short of what the Haisla and Ecotrust were demanding, West Fraser's decision to voluntarily relinquish its rights to 317,000 hectares of its timber supply is thought to be unprecedented. In a recent interview, Cashore said he was "delighted, elated" that the Kitlope was to be preserved, adding that the company should be applauded for its actions. "It was a superb gesture," Cashore said. "I'm not aware of a comparable one in the province." The company "deserves respect", Cashore said.
Ketcham said on Tuesday it was "cause for a great sense of pride for our company" that it could be involved in setting aside the Kitlope. He estimates the company is kissing $12 million goodbye, but hopes "our shareholders will consider the financial contribution of this decision as being warranted considering the unique international importance of the area". As the man said, clearly there was an evolution in thinking at West Fraser.
"I think it's enormously progressive and historic," said Clark Binkley, dean of forestry at UBC. He was a keen observer of the process — through which he admits feeling "hopelessly conflicted" — because he sits on the board of West Fraser and on the advisory board of Ecotrust. That in itself shows just how extraordinary this whole exercise has been.
Looking back on how the Kitlope came to be preserved, people close to the negotiations agree that the absolute resolve of the Haisla was critical. One senior government official told me the key was "the Haisla being assertive, very, very assertive. They never got aggressive, just very clear, very assertive about what they wanted to happen."
"Whatever [the Haisla] were doing goes beyond political will, it goes to their roots," said John Cashore. "In this case, they were absolutely clear they didn't want any industrial activity at all." Which, as Cashore pointed out, doesn't hold true for Native communities in Clayoquot Sound. Cashore called preserving the Kitlope a "value-centred decision", and for that he credits Ecotrust for so assiduously pulling together the data that supported the Haisla's case and for their "softly, softly" approach. "To me, they are the antithesis of the concept of the Ugly American." Most important, Cashore said, Ecotrust valued the "human community as an extension of the ecosystem", or, in other words, wasn't just hell-bent on getting a park simply for the sake of a bunch of critters no one would ever see. Cashore didn't take a direct shot at the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, or others, but he did say that Ecotrust's quietly methodical work with the Haisla "distinguishes them quite markedly from other environmental organizations".
"This is the first dramatic success of a Native/environmentalist coalition," said Ecotrust's Margolis, who was "ecstatic" that the deal was finally cut. Margolis was in the Kitlope last week, helping to host a delegation of potential donors from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation in New York and the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle. Of the decision, Margolis said: "It was quick; it was fairly quiet. Given the size of the area, this has probably been the quickest campaign. I mean, this didn't start in earnest until 1990 and here we are, 1994, with 800,000 acres preserved."
In fact, the size might have helped rather than hindered the process. For all that industry and the government's critics would have you believe the NDP is giving away the entire province, Harcourt has actually been going pretty slowly on his election commitment to double the amount of protected land in B.C. by the year 2000. When he was elected, 6.2 percent of the province was preserved. The Tatshenshini announcement last year added a whole percentage point, but all the other parks sprinkled across Vancouver Island, the Cariboo, and the North add up to a mere 0.6 percent of B.C.'s land base. In one swoop, then, the Kitlope adds another 0.3 percent, which still only pushes the total to 8.1 percent preserved. To get to 12 percent, Spencer Beebe said, takes "an awful lot of small areas. You need a Tatshenshini, a Kitlope."
But far more than just size, Beebe cited the "slow, patient, bottom-up, inside-out effort we made with the Haisla" as central to his campaign's success. As for the area itself, "I frankly think there should be some national and international recognition" for what has been preserved. Beebe conceded that what happened in the Kitlope couldn't happen everywhere. "There are no roads, dams, bridges, and whatnot that have to come out or be abandoned," and but for a few outfitters whose hunting and fishing rights will get crimped, no one is being squeezed off the land. John Cashore agrees that the Kitlope "is very remote, and therefore not that well-known". For that reason, Cashore is cautious about extrapolating Ecotrust's success in the Kitlope to other B.C. hot spots. But without any prompting, the minister reeled off the Stein Valley, the Walbran Valley, and Clayoquot Sound, then wondered out loud: "If there had been an Ecotrust working in some of those areas 40 years ago, who knows?"
For its part, the company is clearly nervous about any signals the Kitlope deal might send. At Tuesday's announcement, Ketcham went out of his way to emphasize that "the most troubling consideration" for West Fraser is that "some may attempt to use the company's action as a precedent for land-use decisions elsewhere." In a later interview, Ketcham explained: "I just want to make sure it's viewed for what it is, one single act we could perform. This is not an action that can be easily duplicated on our part." Perhaps, but it surely sets a new corporate standard that others will be urged to mimic.
For a government that walks such a precarious line between its labour constituency and its green friends (and for a government that wants so desperately to be liked by business), West Fraser was a godsend, but so too was Ecotrust. One thing that made Ecotrust easy to live with was that its lobbying was never terribly overt. Sure, Ecotrust exercised due diligence and pressed the requisite flesh in Victoria, and, yes, it got some airtime and some ink when it took a few reporters into the Kitlope last year. But Ecotrust never called press conferences to announce its every breathless move, its every visit to every minister or functionary. "We didn't come scratching at the government's door as adversaries," Margolis said.
"I'm not sure the premier even knows who Ecotrust is to this day," Beebe said in an interview last week—just days before Harcourt called him up to the podium to share Tuesday's media spotlight. Few in the press gallery seemed to have much idea who Beebe was, either, which maybe goes to show that it's far from axiomatic that you need to lobby hard, have powerful friends, and get lots of media face time to get things done in this province.
Has Ecotrust stumbled onto some magic formula to make our world a happy place again? It's doubtful, although given the fact that Native people are going to play a growing role in the governance not just of their own lives but of all B.C. in the future, Ecotrust's dab touch as a broker between competing interests holds lessons that surely deserve to be widely studied — indeed, to be replicated, where the conditions are right. And it's not just that the Kitlope deal points to a different path for environmental crusaders, either. It would surely behoove the more antediluvian corporate entities — MacMillan Bloedel and Alcan spring to mind — to take a leaf from West Fraser's book and realize that a little well-placed corporate philanthropy can go a long way, even if it occasionally entails feeding the hand that bites you. "We really felt good about doing this," Ketcham said.
In the end, the Kitlope announcement came on the eve of the Commonwealth Games. John Cashore was unapologetic about the timing, which is clearly intended not just to capture the attention of the international media but to take some of the sting out of the Clayoquot protests scheduled for the duration of the Games. "That's not cynical at all," Cashore insisted, "and I think the government would be squandering an opportunity if it failed to demonstrate what we've done here." As the government staged its dog-and-pony show at the legislature, Cashore's 31-year-old daughter Cecilia, accompanied by her husband and their two young sons, was headed into the Kitlope for the first time. Her natural father, Cecil Paul, described her to me as "a daughter who flew away many years ago and came back into the nest of the Kitlope".
Cecil Paul has also described the Kitlope as his people's bank, a place of boundless spiritual reserves that they can constantly draw upon. Now its physical assets have been preserved, and no longer does Paul have to worry, as he did barely a year ago, that "they are going to rob this valley" of its resources. Strategically, the Kitlope probably won't be that important to the government when, in a year or so, Mike Harcourt decides to tap what reserves of public sympathy he hasn't already spent, and seek a second Term — thereby getting the time he says he needs to set fully 12 percent of B.C. aside. But no matter what the government's fate, years from now, generations from now, people will look back in wonder at the Kitlope. They'll wonder why our plundering society didn't rob the Kitlope's bank and ransack the front office on the way out, as we have so often in the past. They need look no further than to the Haisla, who call what they've achieved in preserving the Kitlope their "gift to the world".
What more need be said, other than "Thank you."