The Clayoquot protests, also called the “War in the Woods”, were a series of protests in the 80s and 90s against clear cut logging of the temperate rainforest of Clayoquot Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia in the unceded territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. The protests culminated in 1993, in what is was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, when over 900 people were arrested (Grant, 2010).
“Tremors from the Clayoquot protests and the campaigns that emerged from them continue to shape [Canada’s] political landscape” (Hume, 2013). “Clayoquot Sound stands out as one of the legendary sites of the Canadian environmental movement’s coming-of-age victories” (Clapperton, 2019).
Clayoquot Sound is the largest area of ancient temperate rainforest left on British Columbia's Vancouver Island Pacific salmon and wildlife thrive in this region of magnificent ancient forests and where trees can grow over 15 feet in diameter and as old as 1,500 years old. (Wilderness Committee, n.d.). The Nuu-chah-nulth peoples of this region include the Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiat, Toquaht and Ucluelet (Wilderness Committee,n.d.)
In the 1980s and 1990s, the government actively supported private company resource extraction. This facilitated the growth of this industry over time with increasing presence of logging companies in Clayoquot Sound. The situation escalated in the late 1980s when MacMillan Bloedel Corporation's permit to log Meares Island was approved (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Sound).
Environmental groups and Nuu-chah-nulth communities were concerned with the logging companies' approach to resource management. The First Nations did not completely oppose all logging in the Sound; they opposed the fact that the companies were pursuing short-term profits by extracting resources at maximum efficiency rates (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
“Environmentalists argued that clear cutting destroys the original forest ecosystem, which leads to habitat loss, soil erosion, bare mountains, landslides and devastated fish streams. The Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation joined the side of the local environmentalists to stand against clear cutting. However, the aboriginal and non-native organizers disagreed on an appropriate approach to stop clear-cutting” (Grant, 2010).
Opposition was expressed in several protests and blockades of logging roads in the years from 1980-1994. Protestors included local residents of the Sound, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Ahousaht First Nation bands, and environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Clayoquot Sound (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Sound). Other forms of opposition included a boycott of BC forest products in order to apply pressure on the industry. “Media attention was focused around the perceived unfairness of the masses of individuals
getting arrested for joining the peaceful protests and blockades. Participants encountered aggression and intimidation from law enforcement, which eventually helped strengthen public support for non-violent protests” (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Sound).
The protests, blockade and boycotts led to significant change in government policies. The Annual Allowable Cut and clear-cuts in the area were reduced to a maximum of four hectares. In addition, Eco-Based Planning was implemented (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Sound). A number of European importers cancelled millions of dollars’ worth of contracts for Clayoquot Sound wood products (Clapperton, 2019).
The protests of 1993 prompted a transformation in public perception about clear cut logging (Vanchieri, 2011) and contributed to the stigmatization of forestry (Tindal, 2013) “Before the 1990s forestry was "king" in B.C., and the forest industry primarily viewed forests as repositories of timber, and to a lesser extent, as places for recreation. The environmental movement effectively changed the ways in which many non-Aboriginals saw forests – including increasing the perceived importance of ecology and biodiversity, health, aesthetics, culture, and spirituality” (Tindal, 2013).
“Campaigners adroitly got the campaign branded the “War in the Woods,” polarizing debate into those who favoured mowing down the forests for industry and those who wanted to save an ecosystem from corporate greed. Whether one agrees with this perception or not — and many in resource communities didn’t — it proved a defining wedge issue that made it easy for people to choose sides” (Hume, 2013). In the end, “government and industry bowed to public pressure to change forest-management standards and limit clear cuts” (Clapperton, 2019).
Prior to 1993, “there had been sporadic protests from Haida Gwaii to Meares Island involving First Nations activists and environmentalists, but they were considered a radical fringe. However, at Clayoquot Sound…people came from all over the country and beyond. Teachers, artists, musicians, university students and their professors, working folk, soccer moms, dentists, doctors and First Nations elders descended on the West Coast to put a stop to clear-cutting by blockading a road. The protest went big and it went mainstream (Hume, 2013).
Clayoquot protests transformed the environmental movement in Canada. It marked the rise of a strong core of women environmental leaders (Tindal, 2013). The War in the Woods was also a time and place where environmentalists learned and developed a number of tactics and strategies that would be implemented in subsequent campaigns. These include the hugely successful markets campaign in Europe and the United States. “Environmentalists also learned that launching campaigns in a valley by valley fashion was not likely to be enough to ensure sustainability, and thus they subsequently launched campaigns with broader geographical and ecological scopes: such as the Great Bear Rainforest, the Boreal Forest campaigns” (Tindal, 2013). It was due, in no small part, to the Clayoquot protests that forestry companies became more willing to co-operate with the environmental movement (Tindal, 2013).
This was also a historical movement in the forging and navigating of alliances between Environmental groups and Indigenous communities. Neither the Nuu-chah-nulth nor the environmentalist community, were wholly united, “all groups in Clayoquot Sound were involved in competing strategies of self-representation for political manoeuvring” (Clapperton, 2019). “While environmentalists fought for an end to this logging practice, much of their campaign hinged on recognition of the local Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations’ Aboriginal rights to their traditional territories” (Clapperton, 2019). “At times First Nations allied themselves with the environmental movement, and at others with the forest industry” (Tindal, 2013). Environmentalists…depicted their relationships with the Nuu-chah-nulth as two marginalized groups uniting for a common cause—the liberation of both Aboriginal peoples and environmentalist ideology. But few Natives actually joined the protestors on the  blockades” (Clapperton, 2019).
There are critiques that “environmentalist support for First Nations was actually ambivalent and sought to erase Indigenous peoples’ presence from the land (Clapperton, 2019). While environmental groups pushed for the creation of parks and wilderness spaces, “Nuu-chah-nulth council members were condemning state park creation as neocolonialism” (Clapperton, 2019).
“At a Clayoquot benefit hosted by the Sierra Club at the University of Victoria, Clifford Atleo, spokesman for Ahousaht, told the crowd, ‘We are not opposed to logging and we are not opposed to jobs.” He continued that “Natives become annoyed when non-native environmental leaders make public statements such as ‘not another tree will fall’ in Clayoquot Sound’” (Clapperton, 2019). “The Nuu-chah-nulth publicly denounced Paul Watson, former Greenpeace member for advocating a tree-spiking strategy. They banned Greenpeace from their territory and shut down a Greenpeace and FOCS blockade that had been erected without Nuu-chah-nulth permission” (Clapperton, 2019)
Meanwhile, “the Nuu-chah-nulth capitalized on both the presence of environmentalist organizations and the protest events to create new political, economic, and discursive spaces for themselves within numerous colonial structures. They then employed these spaces to assert control over their traditional territories and the natural resources therein. In other words, the Nuu-chah-nulth, far from being caught between and injured by the competition for dominance between various colonial forces, managed to use these competitions to their advantage and sometimes even orchestrated them” (Clapperton, 2019)
Ultimately, this case "provides an important instance of Indigenous peoples using all the tools at their disposal, including the support of small green organizations with whom they are often in regular contact, to direct their own history as well as that of settler-colonialism (Clapperton, 2019).
Clayoquot Sound has recently been facing pressure from gold mining and other extractive projects.
1955: The region's forests were licensed to two forest companies (Grant, 2010).
1959: A logging road was built to Tofino, marking the beginning of the region's commercial exploitation of timber.
1979: Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS) is founded as a non-profit society.
1980: MacMillan Bloedel announced it would log much of Meares Island (Clapperton, 2019). Campaigns begin to protect Meares Island from logging (FOCS, n.d.). Environmental groups such as the Wilderness Committee, and Sierra Club joined with the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations to call for an end to MacMillan Bloedel's plans to log (Wilderness Committee, n.d.).
“As with the majority of land in British Columbia, neither the provincial nor federal governments had negotiated a treaty with the local Indigenous population to acquire it; Meares Island was unceded Indigenous territory. The Nuu-chah-nulth immediately opposed the plan.
The same year, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council presented a land claim to their traditional territory, including Meares Island, to Canada’s federal government (Clapperton, 2019).
1983: “The federal government accepted the Nuu-chah-nulth’s claim for negotiation and the provincial government approved MacMillan Bloedel’s logging application. In response, both the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht nations then asserted their jurisdiction over the whole of the island” (Clapperton, 2019).
1984: Members of Friends of Clayoquot Sound and First Nations groups set up blockades on the logging roads leading to Meares Island (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests). Company is turned away. A court injunction was granted, suspending logging on Meares to this day (FOCS, n.d.). FOCS helped to maintain a “forest protectors’ camp,” established by the Tla-o-qui-aht at the proposed logging site (Clapperton, 2019).
April 1984: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation declare Tribal Park on Meares Island. This declaration kicked off a comprehensive fight to establish the right of First Nations people to protect their lands and resources (Wilderness Committee, n.d.). “Such action was especially poignant given that Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park, established in 1971, was located within unceded Nuu-chah-nulth territory and went around reserve lands, thus denying those First Nations access to resources therein. The Tla’o’qui’aht distinguished a tribal park from other such settler-colonial spaces in that the Nuu-chah-nulth could continue to use and manage the environment as they saw fit” (Clapperton, 2019).
1984: A series of requests for injunctions came before the courts, including one from MacMillan Bloedel to stop the protestors from blocking its access to the island, another from the Clayoquot and Ahousaht to stop the company from logging pending the resolution of the claim to Aboriginal title”. In the end, the BC Court of Appeal’s ordered MacMillan Bloedel to stop logging pending the out-come of the Nuu-chah-nulth’s claim to Aboriginal title (Clapperton, 2019).
October 1984: A large protest was held outside the provincial legislature in Victoria, where the 23-foot-high welcome figure Haa-hoo-ilth-quin(“Cedar Man”) carving by Nuu-chah-nulth artist Joe David, was on display (Clapperton, 2019).
1988: the Tin Wis Coalition was created allowing workers, environmentalists, and aboriginals to discuss mutually beneficial changes. In October 1990 the coalition ceased (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
1988: "FOCS discovers illegal logging road in Sulphur Pass and they help set up a blockade. 35 people were arrested during summer-long blockade. Road is stopped, thus allowing large Megin Valley wilderness to remain intact: (FOCS, n.d.)
1989: A new forum of eleven-members formed, which meant to produce more results and resolutions by finding compromises for land use in Clayoquot Sound to satisfy all stakeholders. It disbanded within the year (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
1990: Clayoquot Sound Development Steering Committee is formed, "with representatives from the logging industry, environmentalists, tourist operators, and First Nations groups formed and talked for over a year and a half until environmentalists and tourism representatives walked out, unimpressed that logging operations had continued while the groups met, and disbanded in May 1991" (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
Early 1990s: Environmental groups such as the Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of Clayoquot Sound and the Natural Resources Defence Council, worked together with five First Nations of Clayoquot Sound, the Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiaht, Toquaht and Ucluelet First Nations, to bring international attention to the area (Wliderness Committee, n.d.)
1991: The BC NDP took up government and utilized all the information compiled from both the committee and the task force to create their Clayoquot Sound Land Use Plan.
1992: Friends of Clayoquot Sound set up another blockade at Clayoquot Arm Bridge of Kennedy Lake, 65 arrested, protesting MacMillan Bloedel’s logging at edge of intact Clayoquot River valley. (FOCS, n.d.)
April 1993: The Clayoquot Sound Land Use Plan was announced without consulting First Nations, which put forward a plan to allow substantial clear cut logging in Clayoquot Sound (Clapperton, 2019). The plan divided the forests of Clayoquot Sound into numerous regions, setting parts aside for preservation, logging, and other various activities including recreation, wildlife, and scenery. The plan permitted logging in two-thirds of the old growth forest in Clayoquot (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
"BC government established a logging zone amounting to 62% of the crown land in Clayoquot Sound, including 17% earmarked for careful logging. Protected areas totalled 33%, but only 14% remains protected old-growth forest, notably the 21 km long Megin River valley" (Grant, 2010)
The announcement sparked outrage among environmentalists and the Nuu-chah-nulth people alike. Environmental groups debated the amount and type of land that had been divided, but the First Nations, who composed almost the entire population of the Sound, were concerned that the plan did not consider their spatial, environmental, or economic practices (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
Summer 1993: In April of 1993, Michael Harcourt, the province's premier, announced that logging companies, mainly MacMillan Bloedel, had the permission to clear-cut sixty two percent of Clayoquot land. Harcourt argued that his decision exemplified how industry and environment could work together (Vanchieri, 2011). The province owned a majority of shares in MacMillan Bloedel (Clapperton, 2019).
The plan sparked an outcry and the largest protest camp in the region was launched. 11,000 people visited the camp during the summer, and around 200 people lived in the Peace Camp at one time. The camp offered workshops and became a place for protesters to gather information. (Vanchieri, 2011).“For 5 months a nonviolent protest blocked access to the only bridge to a logging site near Kennedy Lake. Macmillan Bloedel Ltd. obtained a court injunction prohibiting blockades, and the RCMP, on instruction from the province, charged violators with criminal contempt” (Grant, 2010). Over 900 protestors were arrested (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
Local residents who worked in the logging industry organized a counter-protest called the ‘Ucluelet Rendezvous '93’ “More than 5,000 people came to support the workers and logging community. Loggers stated that they did not want to wipe out the forests, but that carrying on the industry was economically important for future generations” (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Protests).
October 1993: The Government established the Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound. The panel, which excluded government, industry, and environmentalist members, was mandated to combine First Nations’ traditional knowledge with Western scientific practices in establishing “world class logging standards”. “While the Nuu-chah-nulth perceived this gain as a fracture in colonial control, environmentalists dismissed the panel’s creation as a stalling tactic de-signed to ‘divide and conquer’ supposedly staunch allies” (Clapperton, 2019).
Oct 1993: The Peace Camp closed and the first of eight mass trials of protesters began. The government argued that protesters violated the injunction that allowed MacMillan Bloedel to clear-cut. The government persecuted the 860 protesters in eight trials. The government charged them with criminal contempt and the judge ruled them all guilty. The sentences of the 860 protesters reached up to 45 days in jail and fines of $3,000 (Vanchieri, 2011).
December 1993: After more than a month of negotiations with the Nuu-chah-nulth, the NDP were forced to sign an Interim Measures Agreement (IMA) that secured the Nuu-chah-nulth a greater grip on both government and logging activity in the area until the Scientific Panel could complete its work (Clapperton, 2019). The IMA provided for local aboriginal review of logging plans in the sound while the land claim was being settled (Grant, 2010). “Most environmentalists were less than enthusiastic about the agreement and recognized that they were being pushed aside.
The IMA provided for no input from any environmentalist organizations, though the Nuu-chah-nulth offered them a token advisory role on the management board, with nodecision-making power” (Clapperton, 2019).
July 1995: All 127 unanimous recommendations made by the scientific panel on Clayoquot Sound were accepted by the Forests Minister of British Columbia, the Environment Minister, on behalf of the NDP government (Wikipedia, Clayoquot Sound).
1996: “FOCS and Greenpeace takeover of Rankin Cove logging camp leads to First Nations-brokered truce between MacMillan Bloedel and environmentalists. Negotiations begin on protecting intact (pristine/unlogged) valleys in Clayoquot Sound from logging” (FOCS, n.d.).
1996: The Wilderness Committee and the Ahousaht First Nation collaborated to construct the Wild Side Trail on the west side of Flores Island, another large area of pristine forest (Wilderness Committee, n.d.)
1998: Big companies began to divest their holdings in the area. A new company was formed by the First Nations called Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. (Wilderness Committee, n.d.). This involved the transfer of MacMillan Bloedel's cutting rights to a 51% First Nations-owned logging company, Iisaak (Wilderness Committee, n.d.). “Iisaak then signed an historic agreement with the environmental groups working to save Clayoquot, including the Wilderness Committee that ushered in a new era of peace in the woods. The agreement, known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) committed Iisaak to only logging outside the intact ancient forested valleys of Clayoquot Sound. The environmental groups promised to stop protesting and to actively support Iisaak gaining new markets for their wood products and in buying up the remaining logging rights in Clayoquot Sound. FOCS does not sign MOU in order to maintain its independent watchdog position” (FOCS, n.d.).
January 2000: With the support of local First Nations, communities, and the federal and provincial governments, Clayoquot Sound was designated as the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region (CSUBR). The CSUBR is a member of the international network of UNESCO World Biosphere Regions. The CSUBR designation acknowledges aboriginal title and rights, and does not prejudice ongoing treaty negotiations. To mark this designation, in May 2000 the federal government entrusted a $12 million grant to Clayoquot Sound communities through the creation of the Canada Fund (Clayoquotbiospherereserve, n.d.).
2004: “FOCS wins 5-year moratorium on logging in large intact valleys of Sydney and Pretty Girl from Interfor” (FOCS, n.d.).
2006: FOCS and five other groups working to protect Clayoquot’s intact valleys form Clayoquot Sound Steering Committee, later renamed Clayoquot Sound Conservation Alliance. Discussions continue with First Nations about protecting intact valleys via conservation investment (FOCS, n.d.).
2006: First Nations of Clayoquot Sound purchased the outstanding shares of the company becoming the sole proprietor of Iisaak.
2005-2008: “FOCS and allied groups pressure Interfor, Coulson and BC Timber Sales to prevent logging in five intact valleys” (FOCS, n.d.).
2007: “First Nations of Clayoquot Sound bought out International Forest Products, one of the last big forest tenure holders. A First Nations company, MaMook entered into an agreement with a Port Alberni logging company, Coulson, to conduct logging operations in Clayoquot Sound. It was the newly formed Mamook/Coulson which proposed logging in Hesquiaht Point Creek in 2008 - then backed off from the logging plans in the face of strong protest from the environmental community” (Wilderness Committee,
2009: “The Tla-oqui-aht unveiled their Haa'ukmin Tribal Park, which takes in the entire Kennedy Lake watershed, including the pristine Clayoquot river Valley and Upper Kennedy River Valley. This combined with their Meares Island Tribal park encompasses and protects most of the intact areas within Tal-o-qui-aht Territory” (Wilderness Committee, n.d.).
2010: “Iisaak, under pressure from the debt that the company had taken on buying out Clayoquot Sound’s timber rights, began to lobby hard for the right to log in the unprotected intact ancient forested valleys of Clayoquot Sound. Environment groups have maintained a strong stand, saying that the intact ancient forest valleys must be protected from logging” (Wilderness Committee, n.d.).
April 2011: “The BC government granted Iisaak permission to being constructing a logging road into intact ancient forest on Flores Island in the heart of Clayoquot Sound”(Wilderness Committee, n.d.).
2012-2013: “FOCS and allied groups get Iisaak to back out of logging in two intact areas” (FOCS, n.d.)
2014: FOCS and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation oppose Fandora gold mine. Imperial Metals backs down from exploratory drilling this year (FOCS, n.d.).