Thirteen years ago, in the fall of 1998, the Kitkatla and other B.C. First Nations had reason to celebrate as the provincial Supreme Court ruled that Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) have tremendous cultural and scientific significance and should be protected.
CMTs are trees that have been modified for traditional indigenous uses. The western red cedar and yellow cedar are of particular importance to the Kitkatla. Highly valued for their limbs, bark and wood, these trees can be made into canoes, housing materials, clothing, blankets, rope and many other items.
The ruling came in response to the Kitkatla's application to stop International Forest Products Ltd. (Interfor) from clearcutting seven cutblocks in their territory south of Prince Rupert on B.C.'s North Coast. The community knew, and archaeological reports had confirmed, that these cutblocks contained many CMTs.
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The Kitkatla contacted the David Suzuki Foundation for advice on how to protect their traditional territory. Thanks to Foundation president Tara Cullis's diplomatic visits to several north and mid-coast B.C. First Nations communities, we had already established a relationship with the Kitkatla and were pleased to offer scientific support, helping them quantify their traditional use of the area.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Cullis and her team returned to Kitkatla (also the name of the local village) to be present when B.C. Ministry of Forests officials arrived to "consult" with the community about how to proceed. To her and everyone's surprise, the officials had assumed that despite the ruling, business would proceed as usual. They were shocked when the Kitkatla stated their intention to protect the trees and told the officials to leave.
The following year, the Foundation partnered with the community to do an inventory of CMTs in Kitkatla territory. Of the five cutblocks surveyed, the Kitkatla crew found 228 CMTs, compared to the 67 the Interfor crew had found in its own survey.