The Moose Cree First Nation has received $650,800 from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to pursue a sustainable forestry license. This is in response to the Northern Boreal Initiative, which provides First Nations communities with opportunities “to take a leading role in the development of new sustainable commercial forestry opportunities.”

The project has been in the works on the part of the Moose Cree’s corporate entity, the Moose Band Development Corporation, since 1996. The money was earmarked years ago to continue exploring the feasibility of developing forestry operations in the area designated as the Moose Cree Management Unit. The area in question is 1.1 million hectares of land, north of the 51st parallel. Ontario does not use terminology like category I, II or III lands. Whatever is native land is just that and for years the government has done pretty much whatever it wants with this native land.

Lillian Trapper, the land and resources coordinator for the Moose Cree, says that “half our territory is in the area of the undertaking, and this is where the MNR (ministry of natural resources) has the trap lines set up and all kinds of forestry going on in there, with settlements and roads. There is a plan for all of this but we weren’t involved in that at all. They have set up trap line systems and they have non-aboriginal trappers on those trap lines and we are not aware of who those trappers are.”

The area north of the invisible 51st parallel is a “wild roadless area” to the government, “one of the last great intact forests on earth,” home to caribou, bears, wolves and wolverines. It is untouched and unknown by anyone but the trappers and hunters who use it.

Trapper says that “because there is no land use plan and no environmental assessment in this area, it offers great opportunities to do things differently and to ensure that this part of the world is still here for those seven generations ahead. This is the thinking that we are trying to keep in mind all the time”.

Thus far the Moose Cree Management Unit is considered as having an ample supply of softwood for a viable sustainable forestry operation, with over 204,800 cubic metres a year. Trapper was quick to point out that “the initial inventory was high, but there are a lot of other issues to be addressed which will probably bring that number down, such as trapping, traditional land use areas, wildlife areas, sacred areas – all this information still needs to be gathered. There is no commitment yet. We are still exploring the options and. forestry is just one resource development we are looking at.”

At the same time the Land and Resources people are gathering their part of the information, the Moose Band Development Corporation is gathering the scientific data: the annual growth and yield of the trees, the various species of trees and plants, soil samples and animal tracking. Ruth Biederman, the business manager for the corporation, says that “we are being slowed down right now by the province, because of the environmental assessment. And I don’t know what kind of impact that will have on our area because the area has never been touched. In the meantime we are going ahead with the inventory.”

Once all the results are in, a land use plan will be developed. Then comes the task of taking it to the membership in extensive consultations. Chief Norm Hardisty has stipulated that first and foremost in their thinking is that if the environment is not properly taken care of with thought for the next seven generations, then it is not a viable business venture. He also mentioned that it must be approached based on a community consensus, which involves educating people about sustainable forestry.

“When people think of forestry, they think of all the clear-cutting out in B.C.,” says Trapper. “We need to ensure that each person who is out on the land, each family, is well informed to make wise decisions as to what they want to see happen, whether it is forestry or something else.”

The initial consultations have shown that the people are interested in the potential job development, and that they are just as concerned about the potential environmental impacts.

There are a few more hoops to jump through before they can apply for the sustainable forestry license, which would be the first by any First Nation. Biederman is optimistic. “We’re hoping the province won’t take too long and hopefully we can log in maybe 2-3 years,” she says. “It’s all subjective to what the Moose Cree want.”