Long Lake Forest Products Company operations in Nakina, Ontario was shut down March 5 when the Aroland, Eabametoong and Martin Falls First Nations set up the first Native blockade of the season. The blockade came after a band meeting in which locals asked the chiefs and councils what was happening with the negotiations with the forestry company. Band officials told them the 2 1/2-year-old negotiations were at an impasse.
Aroland band councilor Sonny Gagnon said the people then told the chiefs, “it’s our turn to do something.” “The road blockade was community driven, the chiefs and council didn’t decide to do this. It was the people,” Gagnon said, adding that the only vehicles stopped were forestry vehicles while everyone else was allowed to go through.
“It was like a 100 trucks used to go by in a day, then nothing,” said Gagnon.
It was a turning point for the bands, which started receiving calls from “everyone,” including the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. A meeting was called in which ministry officials attended and an interim agreement was reached; Long Lake Forest Products Company would stop all harvesting and road construction in two contested areas in order to provide a more conducive atmosphere for a long-term agreement. In return, the three bands have agreed to allow logging trucks in to pick up the trees that have already been cut. “We don’t want them to rot, it would be a waste,” said Gagnon.
Gagnon points out that the three bands were never opposed forestry operations, but that the Bands want a say in the management of the forest, a land-use plan, protection of traditional areas and First Nation values, meaningful consultation, environmental assessments and employment. They say First Nations have to be involved in a greater capacity than employment and economic development in the forest in order to secure a future for the youth.
Long Lake Forest Products Company and the three bands had almost reached an agreement last September, but top officials at Long Lake Forest Products refused to honor their negotiator’s concessions. Long Lake Forest Products Company had outlined its commitments to First Nations in its license application, saying the First Nations would benefit from a Native recruitment plan, training and development and a First Nations business development plan.
Negotiations have already cost the Aroland Band an estimated $300,000, said Gagnon. April 12 has been set as the negotiating deadline to reach an Agreement between the three First Nations and Long Lake Forest Products Company.
“This isn’t over,” said Gagnon. “We still have to reach an understanding and agreement with the province.”