Trappers in Waswanipi are so frustrated by unrestricted forestry operations on their traplines, they are talking about taking action, says John Kitchen, the chief of Waswanipi. “Our trappers have had enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if people started doing things,” he said. The Nation interviewed Kitchen in Montreal at a meeting of Cree communities affected by forestry.
Your community has been hit the hardest by forestry operations, has it not?
Yes, we’re the guys who were first touched by forestry operations. This has been going on for about 20 years now and nobody really did anything. There were meetings set up by the council regarding forestry. Right now as we are talking, the statistics are being put together. Nothing has been done. At this time, I think our trappers have had enough.
I wouldn’t be surprised if people started doing things. We have already met with some companies. One of them is Donahue. Negotiations with them are going well.
What’s the attitude of the companies you deal?
In the beginning, what they want is time. They want to continue talking for a year or so, or to forget about you after. We have to get back to them all the time and tell them, ‘We have a meeting. We’ve got some things we have to deal with.’ Our trappers are not really against the forestry project. It’s just that they want to tell the companies where not to cut—the camps, burial grounds, fish spawning areas, calving grounds, hunting spots.
I think one of their main concerns is also compensation. Every time we talk about this with the companies, they get scared. Compensation means many things, you know. It’s a lot of things we can deal with. In Waswanipi, we have a forestry company and we work with the trappers. We put monies aside for compensation for the trappers to buy them such things as a new skidoo, repairs to their cabins, that sort of thing. We put this money aside and that’s how we work with them. When we talk to the companies about this, they say, ‘We don’t want to do this, it’s too expensive.’ If a small company like us can afford it, I don’t believe them when they say they can’t afford it.
How many traplines would you say have been destroyed or lost?
About 15. It’s hard to pinpoint because some are being affected even today as we talk.
Have there ever been any agreements made with forestry companies?
No, not yet. We are just talking about it right now. We’re trying to put one together that would apply to all forestry companies in our area. This would be before any other actions like legal or blocking roads or things like that.
Would you say forestry operations around Waswanipi are in the same class as the La Grande project in that there was no consultation before operations started?
Yes, but also it’s not the same as the dams. With dams you destroy the land. It’s gone, underwater. But with forestry, you cut the trees which later will grow again. In Waswanipi, when we cut, we replant and that’s one of the things the other companies don’t do. That’s one of the things we wanted to show the trappers, ‘We’ll cut your land, but we’ll plant trees also.’ There’s new game that comes in about three years.
So you’re not against the idea of forestry, but against improper development?
Yes, that’s right. I’m looking for a way to benefit all. I’ve met with trappers who are affected a few times. Any time I’m talking to a company, I always try to invite the trappers that are going to be affected. He gives evidence of what is or is not going to be affected.