The Waswanipi-Domtar sawmill has been approved, but there are a few conditions.

Two environmental panels held hearings into the sawmill in June. They released their reports to Irene Neeposh, Waswanipi’s Environmental Administrator, who was to make the final decision.

On July 10, Neeposh announced her preliminary ruling at Waswanipi’s General Assembly, saying she felt most of the environmental questions had been answered to her satisfaction. “The people of Waswanipi have decided,” she said.

This project would see Waswanipi’s Mishtuk Corp. entering into partnership with Domtar to cut on and off Category I lands. An environmental monitoring program will be put in place and a mitigation fund for trappers is still under discussion. Neeposh added that a certificate of authorization would hopefully be issued within the week.

The Eeyou Review Board found a number of questions it wanted answered before the project could go ahead. The Board said if these conditions were met, then they would give their approval.

Waswanipi Chief John Kitchen said they’ve been trying to get this project off the ground for three years. “We’ve been a model for other forestry operations. In the office we have a satellite photo of the area that shows the difference between Mishtuk’s operations and the other companies. There’s a huge difference. I think it was an eye-opener for some people.

“People are looking for work in this community. They’ve got bills and needs. The regional level doesn’t see this as clearly as we do. We’re trying to do things for our community.”

The Eeyou Review Board came into existence when the Grand Council felt that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement wasn’t being respected. “The treatment of forestry – the commercial exploitation of forest resources – has proved to be, from a Cree perspective, one of the least satisfactory components of the JBNQA,” says the Board.

Its report says the Cree communities have been excluded from the forestry industry and that the commercial parts of the forest have been “fully, illegally and unilaterally allocated by the government.”

Another problem is the impact of so many non-Crees coming into the community to build and run the sawmill. Issues of housing, education and health concerning these workers have not been looked at.

The Board does make a couple of suggestions that will make trappers happy. Cree Tallymen must give their authorization for the sawmill to go ahead. The Board also criticizes the offer of compensation to the trappers of 15 cents per cubic metre cut, saying this is only a token payment. It has submitted a different plan, recommending a mitigation fund of $120,000 a year.

Rumour has it that the Waswanipi band has been offered $4 per cubic metre of cut wood in stumpage fees, but the Board recommends that it be the same as the Quebec norm: $10 per cubic metre. The Board recommends a $50,000-per-year monitoring program be set in place to ensure the survival of Eeyou Astchee’s resources and animal population.