Activism is alive and well

AT RANDOM: Arts and entertainment editor Kristin Froneman leans green

Environmental activism isn’t anything new, but like pop culture, the fight for our planet has seen its ups and downs –– it’s “hipper” moments, if you will, and its fight to stay relevant.

All I know is the fight between resource-reliant corporations and the people some deem as “damn hippies” continues.

As a former student of environmental science, it has taken a lot of living and learning, and a move from a big, far-removed city to a smaller community, where logging and mining are the main industries, to try to see both sides.

I still tend to lean green, but I’ve seen when the two sides work together, or compromise, there can be progress.

And now with at least two oil pipelines threatening to invade western Canadian soil, with First Nations and activists up in arms about the devastation that could arise, I look to a past environmental endeavour that many Canadians fought for, and won… well, eventually.

Before Clayoquot Sound brought B.C.’s forestry practices into an international light, there was this small island in the southern part of the  archipelago then known as the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii), and it’s where my story as an activist began.

In the height of the Mulroney years, I was an oblivious teenager living in Toronto, and to me, Lyell Island, located on south Moresby Island (now known as Gwaii Haanas) could have been Mars.

It was my high school teacher, Janice Palmer, a mighty voiced activist herself, who made us aware of what was happening: old growth forest on precious, spiritual land, held sacred by the Haida Nation, was being wiped out.

A caravan, consisting of Haida elders, wearing those pearl button blankets, known residents such as artist Bill Reid, and activists, (I believe Bruce Cockburn was on board, surprise, surprise) traversed the nation to bring attention to their anti clear-cut cause.

And I was there with my “Save South Moresby” T-shirt getting people to sign petitions when the caravan came to Toronto.

We’ve seen this fight since: First Nations blocking logging roads against the establishment to save their land. But this was the first time, where a country was really moved into action.

The situation came to a happier ending. Both the Canadian and the B.C. governments were moved to sign a memorandum to create what is now the 1,495-square kilometre Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. And although logging hasn’t stopped on Haida Gwaii altogether, it is being done more selectively, using sustainable practises.

And the country has changed. Both sustainable logging practises and aboriginal rights have made more of an impact since, as have those “damn hippies.”

Since those days, I have travelled up to Mica Creek, north of Revelstoke, on a hauler to see how logging is practised today. I’ve been to sawmills where beehive burners have been replaced by co-generation plants to create steam used to turn hog fuel into energy. I’ve seen the amount of work silviculture, tree planters hired by logging companies, have done to replenish the earth. I’ve also seen the logging industry, and towns reliant on wood, suffer to unfair tariffs placed upon softwood lumber.

Like I said, there are two sides to every story.

So as we enter what will be another environmental crisis with the proposals of both the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline projects (the latter was temporarily halted by U.S. President Barack Obama just the other day), it will be interesting to see which side of the fight will win.

As the Gitxsan First Nation sets up their blockades and public hearings begin on Enbridge’s proposal to pipe crude oil and natural gas to and from the oil sands at Bruderheim, Alta. to Kitimat, we could have another south Moresby on our hands.

Oil is the new lumber, after all. And people are willing to get their hands dirty over this cause with jobs and more precious land on the line.

And now that I have a better understanding and a closer stake to the land in question, it may be time to get a new T-shirt made: “Save us all.”

– Kristin Froneman is the editor of the Arts section of The Morning Star.