British Columbia became poorer when legendary activists Art Loring and Jim Green died within weeks of one another in February. These two courageous men dramatically changed the course of British Columbia history and both British Columbia and Dogwood Initiative mourn their loss.
Both Art and Jim were directors of Forest Futures – Dogwood Initiative’s original name – before I was hired. Their early involvement in Forest Futures was one of the things that attracted me to the organization and convinced me to leave a relatively secure funded position as a lawyer at Sierra Legal Defence Fund (now Ecojustice) and take a mostly unfunded job at a new organization that was little more than an idea.
I met them both a few times over the years, but can’t say I really knew them except by reputation – and what reputations they were.
I had heard of Art because of his feature role in the Gitxsan standoff with the B.C. government over title and resources, which was recorded in the incredible documentary Blockade chronicling the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ fight for control of almost 57,000 square kilometres in northern B.C.
The film documents how Art, a Gitxsan, a wing chief of the Eagle clan and experienced logger, blockaded logging crews from cutting trees on the Eagle’s hereditary lands and later the Canadian National Railway, halting all shipments of coal, grain, and lumber to the coast. The Gitxsan hardball efforts on the ground changed the face of First Nations-Crown relations in B.C., along with their seminal aboriginal land claims victory with the Wet’suwet’en recognizing aboriginal title to the land for the first time.
The path Art and other Gitxsan leaders set out on has played out in logging towns and native villages across Canada ever since and continues to evolve in courtrooms, boardrooms, legislature and stock markets around the world today.
The First Nations, environmental and community activists fighting Enbridge’s oil tanker pipeline proposal and Taseko’s Prosperity mine owe Art a debt of gratitude. Their efforts would likely not be possible without Art’s courage.
Art was tragically killed in a logging accident just a few weeks before Jim Green died from cancer.
Although I hardly knew Jim, I admired him from afar. I felt an affinity for him not just because of his role in helping get Dogwood Initiative – the organization I have dedicated the last dozen years to – off the ground, but because he was, at least by reputation, a polarizer (a reputation I’m told we share). Folks either loved Jim or hated him. Everyone who met him had an opinion and a story. But regardless of which side one fell on, people respected him because he was formidable and got things done.
Jim’s career was diverse: poverty advocate, housing developer, councillor, culture lover, great friend, formidable opponent and ideas generator. But he is best known for being a tireless activist and champion of social justice, and for not accepting the world the way it was but for imagining and changing how it could be.
Jim’s most memorable legacies are:
- Turning the Woodward’s building into a megaproject that combined social and market housing, a university building, shops and offices;
- The Four Corners Bank he created for the poor in the Downtown Eastside in the 1990s; and
- The hundreds of units of social housing he got built during the 1980s as head of Downtown Eastside Residents advocacy organization.
Jim died suddenly just 36 hours after he was presented with the Freedom of the City award by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Dogwood Initiative, British Columbia and the world lost two courageous men in February. Their legacies will continue to inspire me to dream big, fight hard and never give up.