This is an interview recorded in February 2007. Stephan Matineau, founder of Next Step Integral, talks about the Integral Forestry project that has been ongoing for the last three years.
Josee: Could you tell me about your experience working toward an Integral Forestry Initiative in the Slocan Valley?
Stephan: Well, it’s been a wild ride! The Slocan Valley has been a very contentious area for the last 35 years. When we began the project I started it as a case study because I didn’t really believe that we would be able to bring it to fruition. Bringing all the sides together seemed like a very optimistic possibility.
J: What factors were important in achieving and ensuring that the CF plan was successful? What actions needed to take place in order to ensure its success?
S: One of the five main criteria to succeed in securing a community forest in BC is to get broad-based community support. And when government says broad-based community support, they have really specific segments of the population in mind. They’re thinking the union, the logging company, the recreation enthusiasts, First Nations, environmental organizations, and the residents. So for us, given that we we’re doing this project in such a contentious area this had to be our main mandate when we started. Was it possible for all these people to come together under one vision or one idea of what a CF would look like? So this was the main challenge we initially faced. Then of course there’s identifying and negotiating a land base, which is not a small feat, identifying business strategies, management strategies, incorporating as a legal entity, getting government to buy into the vision and all that. But the principle mandate that we gave ourselves to begin with was to find out if there was a way for people to all stand behind one vision, and this after the last 35 years of complete social division, conflicts, over 120 residents being arrested in this struggle and many (at least 9) similar government-sponsored initiatives ending up as complete failures.
J: So how did you ensure the project’s success? What strategies did you use to ensure the project’s success?
S: First, we needed to identify the different value systems and then look at these segments of the population — groups of individuals who look at the interface between forests and community in a certain way — and then seek to identify individuals within those segments who had certain qualities and capacities as human beings. We were looking for people who are naturally inquisitive, people who are interested, people who ask questions, people who — although they might see things a certain way — are willing to listen to and hear other perspectives, people who are respected within their own segment of the community, not necessarily as leaders, but just as individuals, people who generally bring a voice of reason to their segment of the population. And you know, these people can be found across the spectrum of value-systems and this is very important to remember. This was the most critical step and is probably the most important one to remember if someone wants to attempt something similar somewhere else. Secondly, we approached the different value-systems separately as opposed to all together to begin with. The main aim of these meetings was that at the end those we met with would leave feeling that we, who were interested in bringing this project forward, valued their perspective and the gifts, skills and insights that they could bring to this project.
J: What have been some of the processes that you have used to achieve support from the people living in the watershed area for which the community forest is intended?
S: Well, I think what happens when you start meeting people and actually begin talking about the project from a place of inquiry as opposed to presenting people with something that’s finalized, doors begin to open, people begin to work together. You’re actually asking questions. You’re asking me about strategies? Well inquiry is actually one of the best strategies when you’re trying to do something in such a contentious area. The Valley has been a very divided place with clear divides between different segments of the population and there are probably four or five of those divides, so a very wide spectrum of opinions and viewpoints. In a situation like the Valley I think you have to approach people in an inquisitive manner, rather than “This is what we are going to do”. So that’s one of the strategies we used. Another one is, like I said earlier, to identify the different perspectives and approach them separately first. It is very important that people do not feel they are being presented with a final outcome, but that they are invited to give input and feedback. Another crucial step is to identify those indivduals who will support the process and the project, and who are respected within their own subgroup.
J: You’re dealing a lot with the Ministry of Forest (MOF), did you use similar strategies with them?
S: Well, first let me say that we are dealing with: MOF in Victoria, the MOF in Kamloops and MOF in Arrow. They all have different perspectives and then there’s the Mill owners in the Valley who we’re taking land from, and then there’s BCTS that we’re taking land from, and then the Union that we’re dealing with and then there’s all the environmental organizations and all the First Nations — there are three different First Nations that have stakes in the Valley. And then there are all of the residents and all of the segments of the population that all have different perspectives on what the outcome should be. So the mix is just quite a mix. Overwhelming at times.
What I did as an underlying principle in the beginning is to always approach everything from an inquisitive place. That’s really been my underlying approach: I ask questions to figure out where people are coming from. I go into a meeting and I ask questions. So what I try to do is to really understand where the people we’re talking with are coming from. If you understand their value system, if you understand their perspective, their language, you understand the way that they utilize this language and all that, then you can start talking with them. And it might be the second or the third meeting before you can actually start engaging with them from a place of understanding what they’re going to be responsive to and what they’re not going to be open to. If you come in with your own perspective, with your own ideas, your own way of formulating sentences even, and you assume that they’ll understand what you’re talking about, then you’re just creating divides. The Union is a good example, they call each other brothers, and you know, brother Simon and brother James and brother Jo. They’re in a club and they support each other and there’s really this kind of male bonding kind of team feeling. They’re really comfortable with hierarchy, they’re really comfortable with things being handed down from the top to the bottom, and they’re also really fearful of losing their jobs and security. In the context that they’re living in right now they have good reasons to be fearful because their jobs are actually really insecure. So first understanding that, and then realizing why they react so strongly to us. Because when I understand where they’re coming from, then I can actually start to look at how we can, with the role that we have, actually support them. How can we actually help alleviate some of their fears? You know, is there anything that we can do?
J: What are some of the successes that you’ve experienced in trying to achieve community support?
S: You know the most amazing thing thus far is that I think we’ve received over a hundred and forty letters of support. They come from all sides of the community. Our level of support at this point is at least 95%, if not more. We’re really close to having everyone sign on board. And if you look historically at the 120 arrests in the Valley since 1991 over land use issues, nine government-sponsored initiatives since the mid-seventies to solve the problem at a cost of millions that have all been failures, often making the problem worse, and then you see a small group of people actually turn the corner and create something that everyone can buy into… I think it’s been a huge success.
J: I think so too. What strategies, activities or processes support/promote the development of the project in the Valley?
S: I think that it is important for the people to feel that those involved really care, that they really care about the overall issue, they care for the whole more than for themselves. That they’re trying to solve something here and that that’s the overall motivation. And I think that for people to sense that is very important, and for people in general to feel heard. I think that if people don’t feel heard, if they feel like they’re being plowed over or they feel like their voice doesn’t make a difference and all that, I think then we start to fall back to the way government and industry have been perceived over the years. I think the Valley is a very special case because of the wide spectrum of values present here. It’s very unique in BC for that reason, we see things differently and that’s okay. We don’t have to see things the same way. We have to be able to simultaneously see things differently and find something that everyone can think is a good thing. Then suddenly the tension that exists from different perspectives is alleviated, because it’s not about seeing the forest the same way, it’s really about understanding each other. And another thing that I think is a very important underlying principle that we’ve used in this process is to realize that this is an ongoing saga. We’re making a step in the right direction, we’re not seeing this as the final step, but rather as step one. I think the problem with cementing yourself in a perspective is that often you sabotage any steps from being made, so you get sides that are against each other and no one’s moving, and then ultimately status quo will happen because no one has been willing to move. So right now we’re actually creating solutions that we believe represent steps in the right direction and then what we want to do from there is take a second step, a third step, fourth and fifth steps… And if you see evolution as stepping stones as opposed to this is where we should be so we should be there NOW, then the chance of being where you think you should be in the long run is actually much higher than if you just stubbornly believe and insist that we should be there NOW and reality just dictates that you won’t, then it’s just not going to happen.
J: I remember talking about this a little bit with you in the first interview: the idea of a continuum as opposed to the big leap, or anarchist revolution.
S: But you know there’s value to the big leap too, but there was more chance of that happening in the early 80s. The climate for environmental activism has changed. We’re living in a different world. In the 80s there were no computers, there was no Internet, there was a bunch of wild people doing something crazy here, and the government didn’t know how to respond. They were like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t know what they’re doing, might as well give them their park”. But today we’re living in the information age, and gov’t knows how to respond to activists. There’s no secret anymore. And before you know it, they know everything about your strategy and what you’re going to do and what’s next and they have their own counter strategy. It’s a battle of strategies that most of time does not go anywhere. So in the world that we’re living in today, activism in terms of the radical activism that we saw as being quite successful 20 years ago, I don’t think it’s going to be that successful anymore. I think we need to find ways to see and take those stepping stones that I’m talking about.
J: So the stepping stones, would you say that’s sort of inserting yourself into a gov’t mechanism and expanding that.
S: In this particular case, that’s the way with CF. In other cases it might be completely different. Each situation needs a specific response. First you need to understand the players, the stakeholders, that’s the first step. I still believe that direct action may be really appropriate in certain circumstances. We’ve had direct action for decades in BC and around the world for that matter. Today I think direct action needs to be part of a greater package, by itself it will seldom be effective. We ultimately need to find solutions, there is an urgency, and often direct action feels like all that one can do, but realizing the complexity of the issues and making sure that each step considers the whole, not just now, but also into the future is so critical for movement in the right direction.
J: So within your smaller core group, what did participation involve, how were decisions made, as conflicts came up how were they resolved?
S: Well we have an amazing group, I can say that. I think the integral philosophy that I briefly touched on at the beginning of this interview is really what made things work so well; our group is a proven case of how an integral approach can actually work. I think our group is very diversified, in terms of the spectrum of value systems and in terms of people’s perspectives. I don’t think we had a conflict in two and half years. It’s been a surprisingly smooth ride. We’ve had to understand each other’s viewpoints and appreciate what each person brings to the group. I mean we haven’t even had a formalized process because of that. I think we’ve created a bit of a culture within the organization. I think that the work and challenge will be to introduce new people to this “culture”. Introducing them to the culture, to the integral perspective is almost introducing them to a level of respect, a level of inquiry, a way of approaching relationship and communication. Inquiry, as I’ve said before, is key, and to be able to leave your attachment to your particular perspective at the door when you walk in and to really look at what will benefit the whole, what’s best for the entire community. How can what we do actually represent the full diversity of this community? And then when we take a break during a meeting and just ‘shoot the shit’, we recognize that we actually see the whole thing quite differently. And you know, I’m always amazed. Like sometimes I go to meetings with stakeholders and I listen to someone else in our group say something and I think, “Holy smokes, I would never say that”. But then I say what I got to say, and others say what they have to say and because there’s that diversity there, you know, the people we are meeting with relax. They cannot classify us in a category. Everywhere we go someone can relax because there is always one them, if you wish, represented in our group. We had a meeting with the District Manager on the road the other day with the protesters you know. There were three of us out of the seven board members on the road with the protesters and the Ministry of Forest. And I was just amazed, we’re all talking to the protesters and all talking to the Ministry of Forest and we’re all saying completely different things, but coming from a very similar objective. But the fact that we’re all saying completely different things makes the Ministry of Forest relax, makes the protesters relax. It just creates this kind of balance.
J: Is it because you’re all representing the CF?
S: Well, it’s because we’re all representing the CF, but also because people can see that we’re actually working together and making this thing work together. And there’s something about seeing that in action. People are learning something from this experience. They’re going, “Oh yeah, it is possible to do this as a community.”
J: So, in your meetings you’ve got really different perspectives, but in your meeting what is it in the conversation that you can identify, you were saying that there’s a high level of inquiry, so instead of jumping out with your perspective you’re sitting back and being curious? Is that the main element that allows for conversation to happen? Say you said something, voicing your opinion that maybe somebody else totally disagreed with?
S: And that happens, you know, and Mark, for example, will say, “My personal opinion is this or that” and we’ll all laugh and say, “Yeah we know. (Laughing) And so now let’s talk about what we need to talk about”. This is not about our personal opinions, it’s about the fact that we’re trying to do something that’s going to work for everyone. You know, so we actually state our personal opinion, it is not to deny it. And you know, everyone knows that everyone’s got a different perspective and what we all agreed at the onset that communities are made up of people with different perspectives, and the only way that we’re going to find solutions is by including and transcending all of the perspectives. So then we need to include them, and we need to transcend them. We need to create something that’s actually a step beyond all of the perspectives because it includes all of the perspectives. Is that possible? Is it possible to include all the perspectives and create something that in reality transcends all of them? I believe that this is what we’re doing. And that’s one of the reasons I call it integral forestry. It’s like integrating all the different perspectives and then transcending them to create something new.
J: Did you find that there was power struggle at any point and if there was, how did you alleviate that? Were you aware of power in that group?
S: I think that the very foundation that we’ve spoken about addresses the issues of power. I think that some people are natural leaders. It’s important for everyone to realize that there are different types of individuals and different ways of being a leader, and one way is to be explicit and another way is to lead in an implicit manner. An implicit leader is someone who encourages everyone to find their authentic voice and to actually bring their gifts forward. And they don’t necessarily do that in a way that is obvious. Jim Collins calls it Level 5 leadership. It’s more like creating an energetic kind of space in the room that people actually feel very comfortable in… through humor, through modeling ways of being and acting, ways of interacting, ways of communicating. And that’s why at the onset, at the very beginning of this interview, I said that who is in the room is very important. Because the qualities I outlined in the beginning — being a naturally inquisitive person, being someone who sees that there’s value in understanding other people’s perspectives — is key. We needed people who are naturally into evolution for this to work. People who want to grow. It’s part of their individual makeup. They are interested in transformation (even if only unconsciously). And people who really care about the whole, they really care about the community. Those qualities are NOT value system or perspective dependent. And that’s very important. You’ll find such people at every stage of consciousness, in each group, in each segment of the population. And if you’re able to bring those people together, then suddenly you’ve achieved the most important step, the rest can be a breeze. That’s why it’s so important. Initially we had some people who we thought would be great, and we brought those people into the room. And if the people come in believing that they’re right, believing that they have all the answers, believing that they’re going to lead everyone into finding great solutions, and believing in a subtle way that their perspective is “the” perspective, it doesn’t work. However nice they are, however evolved they are as individuals, they can be very calm and very intelligent and very well spoken. They could be appreciated members of the community, but if they come in the room with that perspective it kills everything because someone feels undermined, someone doesn’t feel heard, someone feels their perspective is not included. And slowly there’s alienation and you don’t get anywhere. So you have to be able to identify people who are actually able to rise to the occasion and then you work with them. And you know part of the process at the beginning was to say “no”.
J: You mean to say, “No, you can’t be a part of the group.”
S: Uh hum.
J: And how did that go over?
S: It wasn’t easy. But you know, it was the way it was. And I knew that if this was going to be successful it needed people with certain qualities to come to the table, and some people were really interested in being a part of the group and we had to say no.
J: Have you had to deal with any difficulty, reverberation from that decision?
S: Personal, but not organizational. In terms of the project as a whole I think that it hasn’t affected the project. I think it’s actually benefited the project. I believe we would not have moved an inch if it wasn’t for that.
J: How did this project differ from the other attempt that happened in 1995?
S: Well, the main difference is what I just spoke about. The initiative around the ecosystem-based plan in 1995 was imposing its perspective on the whole. And you know, I 100% believe that the ecosystem-based plan would have been a great plan and today it would have been the best thing that could ever have happened to this valley in terms of the ecosystem, but the fact of the matter is that human beings are also part of the ecosystem at this point. And you have to realize that human beings are a species in transition and we are where we’re at today in terms of our consciousness. And our consciousness is evolving (sometimes I wonder (laughing)…), but if it is evolving then we have to take us human beings where we’re at and say this is where we’re at and this is where we need to go, where we need to get to. And you ask yourself the same question when thinking of the ecosystem: This is where we actually need to get to in our relationship with the ecosystem otherwise we’re going to blow up the whole thing. So it’s not to bury our heads in the sand and act as though there’s not a major problem with the earth right now and our relationship with the ecosystem, but we have to realize that it’s going to be human beings who are going to have to choose to make different choices. And the only way we can do that is by facing where we are actually at, stretching as much as we can in this particular moment and believing that it is by stretching to this next step that we’ll then be able to stretch to the next step after that, and then we’re going to be able to stretch to the one after that, and eventually we’re going to get where we need to get to. And if that had happened in 1995 we’d be 20 years ahead of ourselves now, but instead the 1995 initiative wanted to present everyone with a ready-made solution that would solve all the problems for ever after without fully considering whether people, government, industry, union, First Nations, residents were actually ready to take the leap, and so it forgot to include the people. And it – the ecosystem-based plan – has not gone anywhere in this valley. It’s still sitting on the shelf. And I was and am still a true believer in the plan, but…
J: It’s the step versus the leap again?
S: Yeah, and there might be a moment in time where a leap is what people are ready to take. There have been leaps in the past, but then again, if there is a leap, it’s because the humans who were involved were ready for it. And first you have to assess that. And remember that often a leap happens in a really stressful kind of situation. Let’s say tomorrow the mill shuts down and the same spring there are fifteen landslides and 40% of people in the Valley lose their water. Then you’re in a situation of crisis and people are going, “Holy smokes, what are we going to do?” Then if you come up with a solution that addresses the immediate concerns that people have and at the same time that shows a possible solution that will alleviate the same events from happening again, then you just might be able to leap. There’s other ways of doing leaps that are top-down. Ireland decided 4 years ago that they would outlaw/tax every plastic bag in the country.
J: Ireland? You’re kidding me.
S: And then they announced no more plastic bags unless you pay the “plastax”. You know, and then people just had to deal with the fact. And then three months later, everyone had adjusted and that was the end of it. 90% reduction in use. Well, you can take big leaps like that.
J: Did that really happen?
S: That really happened.
J: I didn’t know that.
S: It’s pretty cool. And I was there traveling and I show up at a store and I get my groceries and I when I get to the counter and she looks at me and says, “What are you doing?” I say, “I’m buying groceries”. And she says, “Well, where are you going to put your groceries?” “In a bag.” “Well,” she says, “Go buy a bag and come back because there’s new rules now, and so everyone has their own bags in the entire country.” It’s a simple thing to do. It would take about twenty minutes for the gov’t of BC to decide to do that and it would take about three months for people to adjust and that would be the end of it. Plus the other 10% of plastic bags that are still in use bring 9 million Euros in revenue to government that they invest in environmental projects. So that’s a big change. It’s a simple thing. And I believe that sometimes radical changes need to be imposed on the population and there’s many things that we could start to do now. But we’re chickens you know, we’re not willing to make those leaps as a gov’t, so we’re often dealing with baby steps.
J: Last question: Where are you at with the project?
S: We have finalized negotiations with all the stakeholders, we have agreed (finally!) on the landbase with both parties, the local mill and government, we have over 95% support (actually, I would say more like 98%), we are incorporated as a Cooperative (December 2006) our name is SIFCo (Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative), we sent our final application to government on January 14th 2007 and we should be tenure holders in June of this year if all goes according to plan. Then we would begin managing more than 35000 acres of some of the most contested land in BC. Pretty amazing, considering where this issue was at a few years ago.
J: Thank you so much for your time!
S: A pleasure.