HERstory Lesson Opinions

HERstory Lesson: Julia Butterfly Hill

From saving forests one tree at a time, to redirecting taxes

Julia Lorraine Hill is an American activist and environmentalist, known for living in a tree for over two years as a protest against deforestation.

Hill adopted the nickname “Butterfly” from the age of 7, when a butterfly landed on her finger during a hike and stayed there for the duration of the walk.

At age 22, she survived a major car crash involving a drunk driver who hit her car from behind, which resulted in the steering wheel penetrating her skull. Her injuries required to re-learn how to walk and talk.

“As I recovered, I realized that my whole life had been out of balance… I had graduated high school at 16, and had been working nonstop since then, first as a waitress, then as a restaurant manager. I had been obsessed by my career, success, and material things. The crash woke me up to the importance of the moment, and doing whatever I could to make a positive impact on the future,” she said in a biography.

This is what made Hill embark on a spiritual journey that made her more aware of the environmental crisis, specifically the deforestation of redwood forests in Stafford, California. 

She told the Washington Post in 2004 that “the steering wheel in my head, both figuratively and literally, steered me in a new direction in my life.”

Shortly after recovering from her accident, Hill attended a fundraiser in Humboldt County, California to save the forests.

At the time, the Pacific Lumber Company was clear-cutting the redwood forest, a forestry practice which results in most (if not all) trees in a forest to be cut down. On New Year’s Eve 1996, their practices left the community of Stafford buried in mud and tree debris after it had fallen down due to a landslide.

This is when the community demanded action and asked for a volunteer to tree-sit for a week in protest of the clear-cutting. According to Hill, she was the only one willing to do so.

She ascended the 200-foot tall and 1,000-year- old tree, later nicknamed Luna, on December 10, 1997. The week-long protest turned into a 738-day one, where Hill lived on a small platform. A support crew would often come to provide her with food, medicine and necessary survival gear.

During her time in the air, she endured the harsh weather conditions with only a sleeping bag to keep her warm and was harassed and intimidated by the Pacific Lumber Company.

Hill and the Pacific Lumber Company came to an agreement in 1999 for them to not cut down Luna and preserve all other trees within a 200-meter radius, in exchange for Hill to evacuate the tree. As part of the agreement, the $50,000 that was collected by the environmental groups supporting Hill’s tree-sit were also donated to Humboldt State University to support research into sustainable forestry.

Luna is now protected under the non-profit Sanctuary Forest and a team of experts is constantly looking after her.

Hill’s history of civil disobedience does not stop there. In 2003, she started redirecting her taxes to places she believed “our tax money should be going.”

Tax redirection is a form of direct action that takes place through refusal to pay taxes, and in Hill’s case, redirecting that money to different causes. She gave $150,000 to different environmental and social programs that work to provide solutions such as alternatives to incarceration.

After years of dedication to various social causes, Hill seems to have retired her activism career, as her website reads she is “no longer available for anything at all relating to me being Julia Butterfly Hill.” She still leaves behind a legacy of important and concrete actions.

As our world is in an ever-growing climate crisis and younger generations seem more discouraged than ever, Hill’s story is a perfect example of the overworked environmental activist burnout.
“People forgot there was only one of me and tens upon tens of thousands of everyone wanting, needing, asking, hoping, and demanding,” she said.

Student Life

Re-”paw”-ing animal rights activists

A night of awards and recognition of groups and organizations active in the fight for animal rights

Close to 100 people gathered for the Quebec Animal Rescue of the Year Award ceremony on Nov. 13.

The ceremony took place at NDG’s Monkland Community Centre, and highlighted the accomplishments and efforts of various animal activist groups and organizations. Representatives from over two dozen rescue organizations were present.

The ceremony was moderated by twin comedians Tom and Peter Hartman, who provided entertainment throughout the evening. The two men performed stand-up routines and interacted with the crowd, while also announcing and handing out awards.

Photo by Ana Hernandez

Some attendees brought their dogs, and many of the rescue operations brought animals in need of adoption for attendees to interact with and shower with well-needed attention.

Young, old and everyone in between came together to appreciate and celebrate the work that has been put into the important cause of animal rights.

The Animal Rescue of the Year Award was given to the Nali Animal Orphanage, run by Lindsay Burkart and Nathalie Santerre. The award came with a $2,000 grant to go towards animal rescue efforts. Nali is an organization that helps animals that are mistreated, neglected or abandoned.

“Most of the animals that we bring in are strays or are abandoned,” said Burkart. “So the animals start off with nothing when we get them, and we make sure that they’re all completely vetted, healthy and educated, as much as they can while they’re with us, until they find their home.”

Upon accepting the award, Burkart said experience providing help for animals has been “amazing.”

“Nathalie and I, who started Nali, we haven’t been doing this rescue as long as some of you in this room, but every day we learn things, we have new experiences,” she said to the room of attendees. “If there’s something I’ve learned, it’s that, despite the amount of sad stories there are, there’s just as many good ones.”

Photo by Ana Hernandez

Burkat emphasized the importance of focusing on the success stories and being driven by them.  “We have to remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all in this for the same reasons, and we all get there different ways, but the goal, the end game, is the same,” she said. “The most important thing is that we make a difference.”

Other awards, such as multiple “Unsung Hero” awards, were handed out to volunteers and workers from various animal rescue groups to recognize their tremendous accomplishments in the fight for animal rights.

One such recipient was eight-year-old Ben Bishop-Gay. Bishop-Gay has been helping Nali Animal Orphanage since he was five years old. “I usually help out at the lemonade stand at the garage sales [for fundraising] every year, for about three years now,” said Bishop-Gay.

This passionate volunteer said he is motivated by his love for animals. “I have a lot of animals at my house. I have 10 horses, and I have 16 beehives, and I have five cats and three dogs,” Bishop-Gay said. He said he cares about animals so much that, when he’s older, he wants to have an animal orphanage.

Several raffle prizes and other awards were also handed out. A $500 grant was given to the Pussy Patrol Cat Rescue group for their grassroot work in organizing cat adoptions and rescues. A $1,000 grant was given to Liliana Danel, a regional ambassador for Lush Cosmetics who is an avid animal rights activist.

Photo by Ana Hernandez

Danel chose to donate her grant money in three ways between different rescue organizations: Westies in Need, Tiny Paws Dog Rescue and the Ottawa Pet Rat Rescue. She also commended the Concordia Animal Rights Association, who were among the volunteers working concession and various other tasks throughout the night.

Danel credited her receipt of the grant to “people knowing that I’m not in it for myself, but I’m in it for the others. I’ve been an animal activist in Montreal for many years.”

“Just the fact that I know so many people wanting to help animals, I think it’s an outpouring love from everyone who wanted to recognize my participation. That’s why I had to give it away right away,” said Danel.

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