Alex Roslin: You have followed the different questions people have raised over forestry in Waswanipi for a long time – the sawmill, clearcutting, the new road proposed by Domtar. What are your thoughts on these problems?

Abel Kitchen: Many years ago when I was chief, we did a lot of these things, we started them. I think we were trying to create some work. Those were some of the very simple reasons we had when we started these projects. The issue of forestry started coming up when we realized that when you start to cut you are going to impact people and you are going to impact the resources that people are using as the cuts become greater.

Economically, I think what is happening in Waswanapi with regards to forestry and the sawmill is something that is very much needed when you look at the kind of unemployment which existed on these reserves. You need some kind of employment and I don’t have any problems when you look at projects in that sense.

I guess the only problem I have with regards to what is happening in forestry is maybe the fragmented approach we have in trying to solve the problem. We’re doing it on a trapline-by-trapline basis which really does not give a strong position for the Native people. You’re settling a long-term problem with very short-term solutions. Money does not last very long. Even the benefits Native people are looking at don’t last long. So the solutions are very short-term as far as I’m concerned.

With respect to the sawmill, the major concern I have in following that project as it has proceeded is maybe the consultation part. The comment people make to me is that they would like to be more involved in what’s going on in some of these decisions. I think in a way they are right because they are the ones – the trappers themselves and the people themselves – who are going to have to live with this problem over a long period of time.

A long time ago, I was convinced personally that whatever you do in forestry, there will be some impacts personally and on the resources you depend on as a user of the forest. But I think if proper information and consultation is done, people can make an informed decision. I think in Waswanipi we didn’t go that far in terms of the consultations.

Do you think there should have been a referendum?

You know people keep talking about another referendum. I think people should be given that option. I know when I was chief, we did some votes on other projects, but I think what is being talked about here is a new project, something different, and I think people should be given a chance to vote on that. It’s something totally new and in the end the band council should be guided, if you wish, by the wishes of the majority of the people.

Has it been that way so far?

I think the band council is probably looking at it in terms of jobs and I think they’re trying to do the best they can, but I think what has been lost is maybe they haven’t spent enough time talking to people. People are feeling the impacts right now, and I think what they want to do is talk and really air out these concerns. I think if that kind of process takes place, people would agree to accept a project like that.

I’m aware of a study that was done on the environmental impact of the sawmill. The thing about that study is we’ve done it in the way they do it for all forestry projects. We probably tend to look at it in the terms of all the trees that can be cut and maybe not enough time was spent on some of the human and social aspects related to forestry. I think you cannot do an environmental assessment with respect to Native forestry development without really doing extensive consultation and information sessions with the people.

You mentioned compensation agreements. As you know, Chief Kitchen just signed one with Domtar. Are you comfortable with that kind of an agreeement?

The one problem I have is the approach of a trapline-by-trapline basis. What happens is there is money given out to individuals and some benefits in terms of cabins, in terms of four-wheelers. I heard there were even cars being given out. Those for me are temporary, and what happens is when you do a thing like that, you really don’t have a policy on how to deal with the devastation that is happening up there. These, like I say, are really short-term benefits on a longterm problem.

I always think of forestry, the way it happens, the kind of clearing they do. You’re almost taking 15 years of a man’s livelihood. And when you start evaluating the worth of these 15 years, the kinds of things the government or forestry companies are offering are peanuts compared to what these people are giving up. On that basis they are giving up very, very much for very little gain. You cannot create a policy with that kind of approach. Socially, also, what it has done is it has created problems even among family members, because when you give money to one family member, everybody of course expects some kind of share, and I know it has caused friction among individuals within family groups because of this particular approach.

I’m wondering if you also think forestry should be dealt with just by Waswanipi separately, or do you think there is a need for the entire Cree Nation to get together and fight for something better, like on the Great Whale project?

I think there are some particular band-by-band issues that need to be dealth with. I’ve always favoured the collective approach, you know, the Cree Nation itself dealing with all of these forestry companies. That in itself says something. You have a common position and you’re talking for everybody. I’ve always favoured that because it gave you political strength and I think it dealt with the issue on a more comprehensive basis that, in itself, will result in more policy changes in terms of how forestry is carried out in Native lands.