An agreement like the JBNQA is needed to protect Crees and their way of life from forestry, said two tallymen who recently spoke with The Nation.
Philip Saganash and his brother Malcolm Saganash are the tallymen of two traplines in the northern part of the Waswanipi territory, W9 and W5D. The trees there are small, sparse and take many years to grow back. Loggers for the first time are now moving into their traplines.
They said they are concerned their ancestral lands will be devoid of trees when the time comes to pass them on to their children.
“We were thinking like other people a long time ago, that forestry would never reach us,” said one of the brothers.
“But we always made it pretty clear that if anything were to be done of forestry, it would have to come in a package like the Income Security Program.”
Concern over forestry continues to grow among Cree tallymen as loggers enter traplines never touched before. Forestry companies have already set out plans to cut in large areas of Mistissini and Nemaska traplines, and to a lesser extent in Waskaganish lands.
A new logging road built by Domtar Inc., known as N-822, is snaking into virgin areas of the Waswanipi territory.
And what is being done by the Cree leadership? The two tallymen did not seem hopeful that they would receive any assistance.
Instead, they spoke of feeling enormous pressure to sign compensation deals that have been promoted by Waswanipi Chief John Kitchen. These deals grant small sums to cover damage to traplines, but the tallymen said the amounts are a pittance—$2,000 each. The Cree Trappers’ Association has argued that such deals sign away Cree rights.
“There is nobody there to help us,” said the two men.
“They want to compensate us, but we think that isn’t good enough. They should think of an agreement like the James Bay Agreement, where income is given to individuals so they can sustain themselves— some kind of a guarantee, because there is no guarantee when you get compensated.
“If you don’t agree with the way things are going with those agreements, you’ll just lose some money. Take it or leave it. So that is why in a way it was a bind for us. We had no place to go. It was money handed to us with a gun held to our heads.”
One of the men said he “hated” himself for taking the $2,000, but couldn’t resist pressure from other tallymen afraid of losing the money if everybody didn’t sign.
They were told they couldn’t stop forestry anyway so they might as well take what little money was on the table.
“That’s what we were told, that we can’t stop it even if we tried. They’re going to cut anyway. That’s what we have been told. We’re going to get nothing if we take that attitude—that’s what they told us. If we don’t take compensation, we’re going to lose everything.”