Standing up. Standing tall.

I’m just back from a long-awaited visit with my sister and her family in British Columbia. Normally, we visit each other every summer, but in 2020, the pandemic put a stop to that. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to see each other this summer either, but two vaccines later, and well-masked, I boarded a plane in late August.

Eleven hours later, I was running across the Departure Bay ferry terminal parking lot in Nanaimo and into my sister’s arms. There was screaming, a dropped suitcase, and a frightened puppy. I wish I could show you a video. Every time I remember our reunion it makes me cry.

I hope that you were also able to see long-lost family members and friends over the summer and that your reunions, too, were joyous.

While in BC, there was yoga on the back deck overlooking gardens and chickens, deep talks, and long hugs. There was also a camping trip to an island in Desolation Sound, gluten-free fish and chips (!), euchre tournaments, and orca and humpback sightings.

But one of the most meaningful events was a fundraiser my sister and I attended at Hollyhock, a beautiful retreat space on Cortes Island, where she lives. The evening event, with guest speakers and musical acts, raised money for the long-standing Fairy Creek logging protest, near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island – a place where thousands of people from all over the country have flocked to try and stop the logging of one of BC’s last old-growth forests.

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Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Fairy Creek. It’s not your fault. I hadn’t either. Canadian mainstream media outlets have barely covered this story, despite the fact that it’s been going on for over a year, with arrests of peaceful protesters beginning last May when the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction to remove protesters.

Meanwhile, The Guardian has been all over it. Last week, they ran a story on the front page of their international issue with this headline: “Anti-logging protest becomes Canada’s biggest-ever act of civil disobedience.” The article reported that the RCMP have been using increasingly violent tactics to try and break up this peaceful protest.

Why is this big news internationally, but not here in our own country?

For me, this story is personal. My 23-year-old niece, Kai, and my 20-year-old nephew, Tosh, were on the front lines at Fairy Creek last May. They felt strongly that trying to save the last of this old growth forest was worth the risk of being arrested and came up with a plan. They agreed that Tosh would attach himself to the top of a tripod blocking the logging road, while Kai would remain on the sidelines watching to make sure he was okay when the RCMP  intervened. When they did, Tosh became one of over 1000 people arrested at Fairy Creek in the last five months.

I couldn’t be more proud.

The situation isn’t without its complications—including the fact that not all First Nations in the area are in agreement with the protest and some are profiting from logging revenue—but it’s hard to understand why the RCMP are using violence at a peaceful protest. During the last week of August, RCMP officers deliberately tore the masks off blockaders, dragged them by their hair, and pepper-sprayed their eyes at point-blank range. There are videos.

It’s also really difficult to understand why we are still cutting down old growth at all and why governments are still putting economics before the environment – especially in light of the United Nations code red warning this summer about the climate emergency. We need these old-growth forests now more than ever. They are ancient ecosystems that not only protect biodiversity but actually capture and store carbon. Science tells us that the older a tree is, the better it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. The reason we need to protect them seems obvious – they are crucial in our response to climate change.

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On the Fairy Creek Blockade Instagram page this week, the protesters wrote this:

“Remember that slavery was legal. Denying women the vote was legal. Committing genocide in Canada’s schools was legal. Our right to peacefully protest acknowledges that when laws are unjust or immoral, we have a lawful right, and many have said, an obligation, to stand up and oppose them. We’re standing up, and we’re standing tall.”

It’s very likely that one day cutting down old growth forests will universally be seen as wrong and the governments of the future would never think of putting economic concerns before the protection of the environment. For now, I’m feeling so grateful that there are people, like my niece and nephew, who are willing to do this standing up, people who are willing to put their bodies on the line to keep these forests intact.

Their story has inspired me to think more deeply about what I can personally do about our climate emergency. I think so many of us “average citizens” feel completely powerless right now. We read about what’s happening all over the world, all the evidence of massive climate change—the fires, the droughts, the floods—but we don’t know what to do. There is a collective and passive “woe is us” bystander response happening.

But what Tosh and Kai and the thousands of people who are protesting at Fairy Creek are teaching me is that we absolutely must take action. We have to do what we can.

Author: Renée Hartleib