5/08/2018

Tree of Life Gets Little Respect

Wolf head canoe in Sooke River estuary approaching T'souke Nation
Tribal Journey, 2009 - photo by Trickster Art


In the coastal forest the Western red-cedar is known as the "tree of life". It is a good name for a tree that can maintain its own life for thousands of years. Although it is British Columbia's official tree, it currently gets little respect.

The cedar's downfall? Too useful, too profitable, and too vulnerable.



Unfinished cedar canoe on Haida Gwaii



Red-cedar has helped maintain human life on the coast for thousands of years. It has provided coastal First Nations with planks for homes, and large trunks for canoes and totem poles, the tall poles carved with family histories.

The tree of life also provides material for boxes, rope, clothes, and carvings. But for how long?




Cedar provides durable wood for canoes, long houses, totem poles, and more.



Increasingly, large red-cedar trees are becoming rare as logging companies vie for the last of the big ones. Finding large trees is becoming a global problem as native forests continue to disappear at an alarming rate.

In 1998, when Hawaiian canoe makers combed the islands for a native tree large enough to suit their purposes, they spent 9 months looking, and eventually gave up. They concluded that trees big enough for large canoe building were extinct.

Canoe makers on Haida Gwaii have also encountered difficulty in sourcing large Western red-cedar suitable for canoes and totem poles.




Haida totem pole made from cedar

The largest known Western red-cedar canoe in the world was carved in Sooke, BC by canoe makers from the T'Sou-ke First Nation in the early 1990's. The canoe, named KWA Q YUK, is 52 feet long.

Will there still be cedars big enough for a grand vessel of this size seven generations from now? Or even one generation?

The BC government must manage our public forests far better in order to ensure a sustainable yield of large Western red-cedar for cultural, and other uses. It is a job we have entrusted to them, and for decades they have failed.

Ending clearcut old growth logging as we know it today will help.

It is time to humble ourselves before the tree of life, not to mention before the peoples, and our hosts, that require this amazing tree to maintain their traditional ways of life.

You can do your part by refusing to purchase any old growth cedar for any reason. Even better, we can refuse to buy any products that originate in our disappearing primal forests.



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