It’s been two years since tallymen in Waswanipi started getting “assistance” from forestry companies for damage caused to their traplines.

Chief John Kitchen is the man who championed the so-called “tallyman agreements.” It may not be long-term compensation, he says, but at least it’s helping people survive off the land.

“You can’t call it compensation. It’s a short-term thing,” said Kitchen. “It helps the CTA because a lot of people go to the CTA and ask for assistance. A lot of times our CTA is pulling their hair out.”

In the last two years, Kitchen said Waswanipi trappers have received $450,000 from forestry companies like Domtar, Donohue and Scierie Amos.

The most recent payments sparked some controversy because they were given out just two weeks before local elections in August, which Kitchen won by only a few dozen votes. After the election, speculation circulated around Waswanipi about the timing of the payments of the four $ 10,000 cheques by Domtar.

Kitchen joked about the timing, saying, “That’s four votes,” but added that the payments were not timed with the election. “They were supposed to get it in May or June, but it was delayed because Domtar’s cutting plans changed, so they had to change who they gave the money to,” said the chief.

Kitchen said five more $10,000 cheques were given out by Norbord in July.

Opinion has been divided on the impact of the tallyman agreements on Cree rights and on the struggle to change forestry practices.

In November 1995, CTA November 8,1996 President Edward Gilpin wrote an open letter attacking the agreements addressed to Kitchen, his Band Council and the community’s trappers. Gilpin even questioned whether tallymen have the right to sign such agreements, which may jeopardize the rights of all Crees.

“We have great doubts as to whether or not a tallyman can in fact allow Cree Traditional Territory and Wildlife to be affected of his own volition and without the input of both his community and those surrounding them,” wrote Gilpin.

“We have stated before the People of Quebec, of Canada and before the World that these Rights are inherent and cannot be given away. This type of agreement, even if it is considered invalid as we believe, sends the exact opposite signal to those around us and we cannot let this take place.”

Kitchen counters by saying that the trappers are the ones who ask for assistance from the logging companies. “Every time I have a meeting with the trappers, I tell them, do you want to sit down with the companies? They always do. Nobody’s forcing them,” he said.

But Kitchen does acknowledge this assistance is just a short-term solution. The chief said he plans to make a series of ground-breaking new proposals to the other Cree chiefs. These proposals could pave the way for real compensation and revenue sharing from development.

One of the proposals is to assist trappers from the James Bay Eeyou Fund. Some people hope this will allow trappers to stop taking money from forestry companies and get away from their divide-and-conquer tactics.