The Cree are facing a new battle in the forests, according to the Grand Chief of the Crees.
Speaking at the conference on forestry in Val d’Or May 28, Matthew Coon Come made it clear that disrespect for hard-won achievements in forestry in recent years is leading to new disputes that may once again end up in the courts.
At the top of the list of irritants is forest-company contravention of the Baril-Moses Agreement. Signed in 2002, the Baril-Moses Agreement extended many of the forestry provisions of the Paix des Braves agreement to Cree traplines located east of the “height of land” in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.
As Coon Come told the conference, Quebec successfully applied Baril-Moses Agreement for a number of years.
“But for reasons that are unclear stopped applying this agreement in 2010-11,” Coon Come said. “Instead, Quebec unilaterally began applying a so-called ‘eco-system’ forestry management approach without meaningful Cree consultation and without taking into account the Cree trapline system.”
Coon Come said the decision amounted to the same error Quebec made in the 1980s and 1990s to disregard the Cree traditional land tenure under the trapline system – a decision that led to a number of court actions that were finally resolved in the Paix des Braves agreement.
“The result of Quebec’s unilateral decision has been significant overharvesting, and in some cases, clear-cutting on the affected Cree family territories which overlap with the Baril-Moses territory,” denounced Coon Come. “This has destroyed wildlife habitat and made it impossible for the Cree to carry on their traditional hunting, fishing and trapping activities in the affected territories.”
And he made it clear that the matter is heading for the court system.
“Despite protracted discussions with Quebec, no resolution has yet been found. We have therefore had no option but to take legal proceedings to protect Cree rights. We view this situation as very regrettable, and contrary to the generally positive relationship that exists between the Cree and Quebec,” Coon Come said.
Notably, disrespect for the Baril-Moses Agreement also was the underlying factor in the Grand Council’s successful challenge of the Forest Stewardship Council certification of Resolute Forest Products operations in the Lac-Saint-Jean region last year over non-consultation with the Cree whose traplines are affected by company operations. An FSC certification ensures that timber products come from responsibly managed forests and draws higher prices on world markets. A Resolute representative was in attendance at the conference, and even won a draw for a chainsaw.
Jobs and Bill 57
The Sustainable Forest Development Act (Bill 57) established a forestry management system that doesn’t reflect the Adapted Forestry Regime of the Paix des Braves, Coon Come notes. That’s why the new Cree-Quebec Governance Agreement calls for negotiations to harmonize the two, and to establish a collaborative forestry management regime on Category II lands.
“Discussions have taken place and are quite advanced, but a final push is needed to conlcude the necessary agreements,” Coon Come reported. “This is a question of political will, and I invite the responsible authorities at the government of Quebec to work with the Cree to bring this matter to a speedy conclusion.”
Another disappointment is that the promise of the Paix des Braves of jobs and contracts for the Cree in forestry has not met with the same success as in the energy and mining sectors. Coon Come emphasized that the Cree are ready to work with government and industry to devise solutions for jobs and contracts “that respect Cree rights and are sensitive to the environment.”
The way forward
One reason underlying the lack of jobs is the structural challenges facing the forest industry in Quebec.
These challenges, Coon Come observed, “have nothing to do with the Cree, although the Cree are suffering the negative impacts.”
Instead, the underlying problem is overcapacity, which leads to overharvesting of timber resources. Coon come said the solution was identified in the Coulombe Report of 2004: consolidation and reduction of capacity in the forestry sector. But little has been achieved to implement this solution, he noted.
“We know that capacity reduction is not an easy sell politically. But the time has come when we must all recognize that there is no alternative. Business as usual is not an option,” Coon Come said.
“Eeyou Istchee is our homeland, and we have no other. The Cree will do what it takes both to protect the land, the forest, the wildlife and our way of life and to ensure meaningful Cree participation in the forestry economy.”
Another element for harmonious relations in forestry is the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan, which would cover 13,000 square kilometres of intact forest in Waswanipi territory. The plan would provide two levels of protection: one consisting of park and protected area designations fully protected from industrial development. The second would serve as special management buffer zones.
“These zones will seek to establish a balanced interaction between people and nature to maintain and restore the natural integrity of the landscape,” Coon Come said.
“Implementation of the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan would do much to assure the Cree that government and industry are serious about working with us to protect areas of key importance for the Cree, the wildlife (including woodland caribou) and the traditional Cree way of life.”