The legal counsel of the Waswanipi band believes that private deals with forestry companies are “the modern version of the selling of Manhattan Island/’and recommends that tallymen should not sign them because they undermine Cree rights to their land.
“The tallyman who has entered into such a deal virtually loses the right to seek redress if the activities of the company eventually destroy the traditional economic base of the trapline,” writes lawyer Benoit Tremblay in a February 1994 letter.
“These dealings also do not make any economic sense for the trappers,” Tremblay writes. “While the company is able to make a handsome profit out of the exploitation of the Cree forests, the trapper is left with but a few rapidly depreciating pieces of equipment with no comparable value with what the company is getting in return.”
Tremblay’s letter was addressed to the Cree Forestry Committee, headed by Philip Awashish. A copy was obtained by The Nation.
The letter says the only way the Cree way of life can be saved from forestry in the southern traplines is through an immediate Cree Nation court action challenging Quebec’s entire forestry policy and its respect of the James Bay Agreement. Such a court challenge is only now being prepared by the CRA this summer, over three years later.
Despite the letter, Waswanipi Chief John Kitchen later proceeded to get involved himself in negotiating a series of controversial deals between tallymen and forestry companies. Critics of these deals such as the CTA have argued that they may damage Cree rights.
Tremblay’s letter expresses alarm about the threat forestry poses to the hunting way of life. “I have to remind myself constantly that the story of humankind is mainly that of the disappearance of most of its cultural groups. Pray tell me, where are the Gauls? The Vikings? The Mohicans? The Hittites?” he asks. “I have become very pessimistic about the chances of survival of the trapline system and eventually of the Cree traditional way of life. I have decided that ordinary civil remedies are just about useless.”
He holds out one ray of hope: “There might be a fighting chance to preserve the traplines if we refer to the JBNQA, which may be a severely flawed document, but contains sufficient provisions to enable us to act… But if this is the solution, then it must be decided immediately.”
At the same time, Tremblay says he has “lost faith” in the justice system to protect Cree harvesting rights. He writes that the damage from forestry is so bad, some of the traplines “have been totally rendered useless by unconscionable commercial forestry practices.” Tremblay, a former game warden, also refers to “many examples of illegal forestry practices,” and says Crees have been subject to “low-level terrorism” by non-Native hunters coming into the territory on logging roads. He mentions a “quasi-law” that has the apparent blessing of game wardens which allows sports hunters to claim exclusive use of a hunting area by simply installing a wooden sign saying, “Chasseur à l’affut.” These signs are not sanctioned by any real law but have been used especially to harass Natives, Tremblay said.