Two weeks after the Algonquins of Barrière Lake set up a blockade on a logging road in La Verendrye Park, they were still waiting for a response from the government.
“We’re still waiting. My phone’s sitting there. Our fax is ready,” said Wanda Tusky, a spokeswoman for the protesters. “They’ve got to move because people are getting impatient.”
On Oct. 20, about 150 Algonquins, men, women and children, blocked a road off Highway 117, the main artery between Abitibi and southern Quebec. The protesters accuse lumber giant Domtar Inc. of clearcutting Algonquin land in violation of a landmark trilateral agreement signed in 1991 between Barrière Lake, Canada and Quebec.
The blockade has prompted Domtar to pull 100 loggers out of its operations in the middle of the La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve.
Also behind the protest is the fact that Barrière Lake has been in a sort of political limbo for nearly a year, since Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin removed the community’s chief from power.
Irwin appointed an interim council to run the community but its mandate expired in June. For nearly a year, the band has had no officially recognized chief, no school and no band services. Residents were told to send their kids to school in Maniwaki, 150 km to the south, but many parents refused to do so.
The standoff raises doubts about the future of the trilateral agreement, heralded as an international precedent for how First Nations and logging interests can co-exist. The final stage of talks to implement the agreement is behind schedule and will probably not meet the Dec. 31 deadline.
Liberal MP Clifford Lincoln, a former advisor to the Algonquins and one-time Quebec Environment Minister, had harsh words for Ottawa’s handling of the situation. “I just feel sad that they have to blockade a road every couple of years just to be noticed. If any group of people deserve a break, it is they,” he told us.
“Now, with all the mess that’s taken place, it seems the agreement is dying and the chances of its fruition are small. I understand their frustration.”