About 200 people attended the Working Together for a Sustainable Forestry conference May 27-28 at the Forestel Hotel in Val d’Or. Organized by the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance (SCNATEA), the event gathered representatives from the Cree Nation, the forestry industry, the Quebec government and the training sector. Conferences and round tables about issues, challenges and opportunities of sustainable forestry in Eeyou Istchee showed that conciliation Cree values with the industry will create economic opportunities, but that many steps need to be undertaken by different industry interests.
Ted Moses, president of the SCNATEA, said the conference is an opportunity to create relationships in the forestry industry.
“It’s not like Hydro-Québec or the mining industry where the ice has been fully broken, where we are working together and where we are making a lot of achievements,” Moses observed.
The presentations made clear that the industry offers an abundance of opportunities beyond simply trucking logs out of Eeyou Istchee. Topics explored included business alliances, labour requirements and training in the forest industry, tourism, the use of biomass and accessing markets for non-traditional forest products. “It’s more than just making a two-by-four,” said Moses.
But among the speakers, some thought it important to remind the conference of the historical events that marked the Cree Nation with the forest industry. “When you hear someone, when you get to know them, you know where they are coming from, their concerns… you can also express where you stand and it makes it easier to create partnership,” remarked Moses.
Cree History and Forestry
Now the NDP MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, Romeo Saganash helped draft the chapter on forestry in the Paix des Braves as a negotiator for the Cree. He told conference participants that the 2002 agreement made a difference.
“The forestry companies, now, accept to deal directly with the Cree trappers. It is automatic now. Whereas, prior to that, it would never happen,” Saganash said.
“The Cree have always believed that the forest industry must follow directions in different agreements to the letter. To do that, we have to sit down together. There are and will be challenges that we have to face.”
Saganash also raised a controversial comment by new Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard during the recent provincial election. On March 8, Couillard promised that, “I wouldn’t sacrifice a single job in the forest for the caribou,” he told the newspaper Progrès-Dimanche.
“The premier said that no caribou will stop the work, there will be problems there,” Saganash vowed.
During the Wednesday’s luncheons, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, Matthew Coon Come, also pointed out important issues about Eeyou Istchee’s forest through history. He recalled how, in the 1980s and 1990s, many forestry disputes arose between the communities, the Quebec government and forest industry. These disputes were to have been settled by the Paix des Braves.
Now and to come
To encourage forestry development with better benefits for the Cree, a committee formed by Ministry of Natural Resources, the Cree Nation Government, Emploi-Québec and Cree Human Resources Development (CHRD) hired a firm to make an exhaustive portrait of forest industry in Eeyou Istchee.
The report concluded that getting Cree people more involved in their own forest development is complex but can be done with specific efforts. Among the recommendations, it is suggested that communities must ways to creating more businesses and/or partnerships, obtain training for Cree workers and stimulate entrepreneurship.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility,” said Guy Hétu, Regional Director at the Ministry of Natural Resources for Nord-du-Québec. “Each one can see how he can improve the situation in its own mission.”
In the following months, each organization of the group will look at the portrait and will assure a follow-up on specific points related to its competencies. After, an action plan will be built to revive Cree’s forestry development.