The debate continues about the deals between tallymen in Waswanipi and the forestry companies. Chief John Kitchen, who promoted the deals, says the tallymen have no choice. The land is being destroyed and the regional Cree leadership has failed to address the problem of forestry in other ways. The CTA calls the deals a sellout of Cree rights. Here are three views on the issue.
John Kitchen – Chief
In order to better understand Waswanipi’s position with respect to agreements between trappers and forestry companies, you must understand the context in which these were negotiated. To ignore that leads to an unjust view of what we have been trying to do.
Until now, the Grand Council and any other body representing us as a people have not taken tire time to dwell seriously on the issues of forestry and natural resources, at least not in a way that indicates a will to develop an effective strategy.
It is fine to repeat without end that we have collective rights, that we have a duty to preserve our environment, that our culture and traditions are in danger of disappearing. All that fine rhetoric has led us nowhere for now.
– What have we done to develop a regional policy concerning trappers and forestry?
– Have we even tried to answer the concerns of trappers who see their lands taken over and used by forestry and mining companies?
– Have we tried to prevent the Quebec government from passing forestry legislation which directly affects our lands and resources?
-Why are we letting the government allocate forestry lands to companies without our consent?
– Have we even tried to take the time to listen to the trappers?
While we are sitting on our hands, the trappers see their traplines disappear. The trappers of Waswanipi as a collective group have repeatedly asked our Council to do something to minimize the impact commercial forestry has on our traditional lands. Since nobody was responding, trappers were already making their own private deals with the forestry companies, and that practice was general. These deals were very dangerous to the trappers themselves, and to our lands as well as affecting our rights generally. The tracers, in the face of our leaders’ inability to answer their concerns, have taken the matter in their own hands. For a few dollars, for a few pieces of equipment, and without the benefit of counsel from their own association, they were selling themselves and their lands away to the companies.
As the Chief of this community, I could not let that practice perpetuate itself.
Seeing that I would get no help from our regional leaders, I took the responsibility to initiate TEMPORARY measures to give back to the trappers a measure of control over their lands. The key word here is: “Temporary.” I have exerted myself to explain that these agreements are limited in their nature…
(1) We have negotiated those agreements only as stop-gap measures to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.
(2) We agree that forestry and natural resources belong collectively to the Cree people. Therefore, we are expecting from our regional leaders that we act soon in developing a regional policy on forestry, natural resources and Cree lands applicable to all communities…
(3) Waswanipi will suspend these agreements the day we have a Cree national position on forestry accepted by all Chiefs.
Until we seriously debate these issues and the formulation of a comprehensive policy, I as an individual Chief must do what I can in the face of a disaster.
Excerpts from a letter by Waswanipi Chief John Kitchen to Edward Gilpin, president of the Cree Trappers’ Association, Dec. 6, 1995.
Mario Lord – Hunter
The Nation: What do you think of the agreements some of the tallymen have signed with the forestry companies?
Mario Lord (Waswanipi tallyman): I don’t really know what to say about that. It doesn’t really help me, I should say. The amount of the money they give us is like peanuts. But the other way is losing everything and not having anything.
I wanted to bring them to court at the beginning. Nobody ever really helped me since John (Kitchen, Waswanipi’s Chief) was really too busy negotiating with the other companies. After, I thought I would go with John since he’s helping a bit with the other people. But it seems like it’s not really helping. It’s like the first agreement I had with Donohue. I bought myself a truck. I’m only getting the cheque once a year. The car dealer can’t wait once a year to get paid. So I lost my truck and I guess I should say I lost everything I negotiated with.
It doesn’t help you? Is that because it’s so little money?
Yes. Them, they must get what, a couple of million a year, I don’t know.
And they’re just giving you a few thousand bucks.
Yes. Pocket change.
Did you feel bad about signing the agreement or did you feel forced into it?
No. I was just seeing the way it’s going. If we didn’t agree we would get nothing, or we would lose everything.
You had an agreement with Donohue?
And with Norbord. Not long ago—maybe one year now.
Do you think that’s the way for the Cree communities to preserve their land, or is there a more long-term strategy with forestry that should be used?
That’s what I think, me. It would be better if it was longer-term than that instead of short-term. When they use it as a short-term thing, it looks like these companies are cutting faster. It seems like they want to finish faster. So they can finish the contract faster than what they expected.
Do you think there’s nobody helping the trappers deal with forestry?
That’s what I see right now. John used to be before, but since he’s really occupied with the sawmill he’s forgetting all about us now. Now I guess we’re going to have to stand up for ourselves. These years now I’m not really interested in going back in the bush since there are no more trees.
Is it the same for most of the other tallymen?
Yes, that’s what I see too. The only thing they do is stay in the bush, eat fish for a while, mostly small things. They don’t make money out of it any more. Before our hunting ground was cut, I felt like a millionaire. Now I feel like a shoeboy.
Matthew Coon Come – Grand Chief
The Nation: What is your view of the agreements the tallymen in Waswanipi have signed with forestry companies?
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come: I think the forestry companies and all the other developers have the same approach as the federal and provincial governments in dealing with Aboriginal peoples. If they can’t deal with the Grand Council, they go to the Band Council. If they can’t deal with the Band Council, they go to the local trappers’ committee. If they can’t deal with the local trappers’ committee, they go to the tallyman and make a deal with him. It’s the usual divide-and-conquer tactic.
I think that’s a little dangerous because we’re a lot stronger standing in unity to defend Cree rights. Those are not individual hunting and fishing rights. They are not just trappers’ or tallymen’s rights. They are Cree rights. Everyone is affected.
I don’t blame the local tallymen who seek their own form of compensation. I think part of the blame lies in the local trappers’ association, in the Band Council, including our organization, the Grand Council.
In terms of coming to grips with the implications and magnitude of going that route, I think it’s very dangerous. We’re trying hard to see if we can have a collective approach because, like I said, they are Cree rights; they are not tallymen’s rights. Everyone is affected. If the local tallyman gets compensation what about the animals that are affected, animals that do not confine themselves to a tallyman’s boundaries? If that animal is affected then the next trapper is affected.
You say you don’t blame them for signing those agreements. Do you think they didn’t have a choice because nothing else was being done or was available to them?
I think we as a whole, including the Chief and Council, the local tallymen, the regional trappers’ association, the Grand Council, didn’t really respond in a way that we should have. These things take time. You have to assess. You have to look at who is in the region. And that’s what we have been doing. If you’re going to go out and fight to protect your rights, you have to know who you’re up against, what companies are in the territory, who has the wood-right concessions in a given territory, did they have their permits, did they seek their permits through the various environmental committees. And assess the economic impacts of forestry on the Cree traplines.
That’s the work we’ve done. That takes time. And for a trapper who’s on the frontlines and sees all this, he may conclude we are dang nothing. But if you want to go to court—which we will—you ha/e to do your homework. You have to know who you’re up against. I think any trapper should understand that. If a trapper waits to hunt an animal he knows he has to almost think like that animal and know his every move. We adopt the same principle in or strategy. It takes a little longer, though, so in that sense I think we’re all guilty.
Now you’re saying there is a collective solution on the horizon.
Definitely. That’s what we would push for. But I think it undermines the Cree position to a certain extent when individuals proceed to go on their own. I think it erodes some of the collective rights that Crees have. But that’s all internal. We have to have our own internal discussions about the whole issue.
What is the collective solution?
I think the Crees have demonstrated in the past that when they stand together they can achieve more. If you take one stick you’ll break it easily. But you tie nine, 10 sticks together, it’s very difficult to break. I think you’re a lot stronger in terms of the position you can develop, rather than dealing with one individual who may not know his rights. All he’s concerned about is if I get a ski-doo and a four-wheeler, I’ll be okay, you know, and give me $10,000. Meanwhile, his ski-doo will breakdown, his four-wheeler will breakdown, his truck will break down. What happens to the next trapper who will inherit that land? What will he get? He will have already spent that $10,000. Those are the issues we need to come to grips with.