Whenever Laura Nedelak hears the rain clattering off the roof of her Whistler home, the first place her mind goes is a muddy patch of forest on southern Vancouver Island, some 150 kilometres away.
“I think, ‘Oh my god. They’re out there,’” says the singer-songwriter. “Maybe it’s a motherly thing. I think it’s a human thing.”
The “they” Nedelak is referring to is the thousands of protestors who, since last summer, have uprooted their lives to head to Fairy Creek on Pacheedaht Nation land, leaving behind careers and obligations to fight against the logging of old-growth forest.
“Honestly, I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about them, because I know it’s winter; it’s awful and raining,” Nedelak relays. “I just wanted to keep the conversation going because it was all in the news in the summer, but it’s still happening. They’re still cutting down big fucking trees there, pardon my French.”
Considered the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, the Fairy Creek blockades garnered global coverage at the peak of the protests this summer, as images of Land Defenders facing off against the RCMP and reports of journalists being barred from the site made international news. So far, more than 1,100 protesters have been arrested—some multiple times—and the RCMP has spent upwards of $3.7 million enforcing a court-ordered injunction against the protestors.
Nedelak, who has visited the camps twice, including as recently as October with her son, couldn’t help but want to document the experience.
“I just really felt like this was something unbelievable. I had never experienced anything quite like it,” she says. “Whenever I’m somewhere where I really need to move on, I have to write something to be able to do it. Because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I still can’t stop thinking about it.”
That led Nedelak to penning the song, “Ancients Fall,” and a subsequent music video shot at Fairy Creek by her son, Connor Warnock, winner of the local 2021 Rough Cuts competition as part of this year’s virtual World Ski and Snowboard Festival.
“He kind of went reluctantly, but when he got there I know it impacted him in a real way,” Nedelak says.
That second trip was not without its hiccups. Arriving on the island on the day of an atmospheric river that left much of the province covered in water, Nedelak and her crew had to contend with sudden road closures near Cowichan Bay and nowhere to stay. At a crossroads, it was Connor who convinced them to keep going.
“It was really looking not very good there; there was a lot of flooding. That’s when he said to me, ‘I know it’s the irresponsible thing to do, but we should keep going,’” Nedelak recalls. “He looks at me and says, ‘I do irresponsible things every day.’ I’m like, ‘Shit, I thought I raised you better.’ Then the road opened and it was all good.”
It was important for the folk singer to “keep the conversation going” since Fairy Creek has seemed to fall off of most British Columbians’ radars after the B.C. Supreme Court in September denied a one-year extension of the injunction against blockades, with Judge Douglas Thompson citing concern that police enforcement led to serious infringements of civil liberties, including impairment of freedom of the press. (Last month, a panel of judges in B.C.’s Court of Appeal reserved its decision on the future of the injunction. The judges did not set a date for a ruling.)
“It is very important that we highlight these issues. They need to be talked about still. They need to not just be a flash in the pan because climate change isn’t going away and we have these kids on the frontline and they are doing an incredible job and they don’t get the credit they deserve,” says Nedelak. “It’s probably innate to them; they’re so driven by the cause that they don’t expect to get any kind of adulation, but from an outsider such as me, that’s not my role. I’m not going to hunker down there for six months, but at least I can help … get the word out and keep that word alive.
“I don’t think people recognize the job they’re doing there for all of us.”
Check out the video for “Ancients Fall” on YouTube.