A small community of Anishinabek families in La Vérendrye wildlife reserve is fighting a David-and-Goliath court case against the huge forestry multinational Louisiana Pacific to stop continued deforestation on their territory.
The community launched a court case August 18 to end decades of large-scale clear cutting of their forests. Community representatives Tina Nottaway and Charles Ratt argue that their traditional way of life and the region’s natural ecosystem are under threat.
The Anishinabek families live on unceded territory 300 km northwest of Montreal along Route 117 in the Laurentian Mountains. They are one of the few Canadian First Nations communities to remain on their original territories. Though their land is within the La Vérendrye wildlife reserve, this does not protect the forest from clear-cut logging.
In an email interview, Nottaway and Ratt stated, “It is our responsibility as Anicinabe people to ensure all creations of life are passed on to the next generations as they were passed on to us. But today we are faced with massive clear cutting, mining and flooding of the land.”
Following increased logging activity in early August, the community organized a checkpoint on the road through the territory. By demanding permits that couldn’t be provided, the checkpoint temporarily halted the operations of Louisiana Pacific with the help of Native and non-Native supporters, many arriving by bus expeditions.
Marie Dimanche, co-founder of Solidarité NABRO/Solidarity with ANORW, was ecstatic about the interest received in the bus trips from Montreal. “It’s amazing all the support that the Anishinabe are getting from the non-Native citizens. It’s beautiful. It’s great. We filled a whole bus of people to get there, right in the middle of the summer, five hours from Montreal.”
The bailiff arrived amidst the blockade, ordering the temporary suspension of logging and the beginning of the court hearings against Louisiana Pacific, which commenced August 18.
Dimanche says the Anishinabek have a good chance in court. “On the legal side, I feel we have a very strong case,” she said. “The lawyer did a good job arguing the legal points and jurisprudence.” However, on the question as to whether the community’s voice would be heard, she keeps a guarded skepticism of the courts as “part of the economical and colonial systems.”
This is echoed in the feelings of Nottaway and Ratt towards the court process. “We do not feel our voices are heard in this type of system of law … [which does not] acknowledge that we have our own way of governing our people and territory. A system that is as old as the beginning of creations; a system that supersedes man-made laws.”
On the other side, the forces against the community are not trivial. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Louisiana Pacific had net sales of $2.1 billion in the year 2013 from their operations in the US, Canada, Chile and Brazil, according to their annual report.
The power asymmetry was clear in the courtroom. While the Anishinabek families had two lawyers from the Montreal-based law firm Martin Camirand Pelletier, Louisiana Pacific had a legal team of six lawyers at the hearing.
“What is frustrating is to see how these destructive and dishonest corporations, who are acting illegally, have so much weight, power and credibility in the eyes of the justice system,” Dimanche lamented.
Nottaway and Ratt say the solidarity from non-Native supporters is important to help stand against such corporate power. “It is obvious that everybody’s voice has a positive impact in reaching our goal,” they wrote by email. “It is important that we all stand together from all colours and all directions. We take great honour to all people who support Mother Earth and stand as one nation.”
Dimanche said this solidarity is also key to keeping the industry accountable. “It is going to help change things more quickly. Louisiana Pacific now know they cannot commit their deeds in secret, thinking that nobody knows and cares except a few Natives they do not care for.”