Clearcutting in La Verendrye Park is slowly destroying Algonquin culture, says a traditional Algonquin from Rapid Lake. Jacob Wawatie described the dire situation facing his community at the Native Forest Network Conference in Burlington, Vt., in November.
The problems started 15 years ago, he said, when the status of La Verendrye was changed from park to nature reserve. This allowed the Quebec government to give forestry companies permits to cut in the area, hi 1989 and 1990, Wawatie’s community set up protest blockades on logging roads. But the cutting continued, leaving 50 per cent of the 80,000-sq-km territory clear-cut.
The standoffs prompted the Quebec and Canadian governments to sign a trilateral agreement with the local band council allowing the continued cutting of the forests, but with supervision from the Algonquins. But the Quebec government violated even this agreement, and the Algonquins responded by erecting more blockades last winter. The tensions are still not resolved, and to make matters worse, an injunction now exists forbidding any new blockades to stop the clearcutting.
Wawatie lives traditionally off the land with his family, including his 78-year-old grandmother. At the conference, he showed slides of his family trapping, treating animal hides, making snowshoes and clothing, and fishing from canoes. He also showed how the delicate forest floor has been destroyed by clearcutting, and said that animals and birds are disappearing from the area. What’s more, a logging road is being planned through his grandmother’s traditional territory.
Wawatie said that without their traditional way of life, the Algonquin culture will die, and that the presence of government schools and housing is accelerating the process by preparing the Algonquins for an existence without their lands.