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Overlapping and Crosscut: Delineating Indigenous Power in the History of Industrial Logging on British Columbia’s North Coast, 1894-1985

Sat, March 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, RC D


The transformation of British Columbia’s north coast forests since the advent of industrial logging at the turn of the twentieth century occurred through the interworking of multiple distinct forms of power. Conventional explanatory narratives have looked to the broad forces—such as foreign capital and new technology—to understand this unprecedented exploitation of forests and resulting environmental change. Yet other, intertwined agencies were at work, specifically those of the indigenous peoples who played a significant role in this industry. This paper explores the various forms of power that the Haida and Gitxsan brought to their forests as they were remade into sites of industrialized production, and through this their role in altering their homelands.

Drawing on interviews with retired loggers, it argues that distinctively indigenous ways of identifying, knowing, and interacting with the land were not among the tools native loggers used in their work in this era. While the power that indigenous peoples brought to the practice of logging on BC’s north coast in the twentieth century was inflected by their status as colonized peoples, its impetus lay in a desire to share in the prosperity offered by modern resource extraction.
Consideration of how indigenous peoples like the Haida and Gitxsan used the forms of power available to them and of their role in changing local environments promises to complicate existing narratives of the history of resource development, and accordingly, to inform contemporary debates at a time of rising Indigenous power.