Some Waswanipi residents are firing back at SNC-Lavalin and their proposal to build an artillery range on residents’ traplines, but others are still undecided and at least one family has agreed to the project.
SNC Technologies held an information session in Waswanipi and Chapais in early November. Their goal was to promote the site to test 105-millimetre shells manufactured for the Canadian Armed Forces and for NATO.
The Nation spoke with Rose Dixon, whose father Lawrence’s trapline will be affected. “I don’t believe we should be exchanging money for our land,” she said. “We love the land, as our ancestors did. I feel we should always be able to use this land as Native people.”
Lawrence lives on his trapline year round and his daughter fears the range will affect his way of life.
“I’m very concerned about the noise.
According to Comex [the examination committee that has two Cree representatives], the firing range would be across the lake from my father’s goose blind. This is a very small lake. I’m very concerned about the noise and the impact it’ll have on the animals like the beaver, bear and fish,” said a perplexed Dixon, whose family trapline is five to seven kilometres from Chapais, and 92 kilometres from Waswanipi.
Dixon said she didn’t get a good feeling from the company. “I can feel when someone is honest, and I didn’t feel that way with SNC.”
After preliminary scouting for a site, SNC determined that Chapais was the best place for the artillery range.
One obstacle is language, as Dixon must act as an interpreter for her father. “My father cannot say very much because he’s not able to express himself in either French or English. He’s also a very quiet man. He doesn’t like arguments. He wants peace,” she exclaimed.
“He feels very sad. He lives in fear because of this project, wondering what he’s going to leave to his children and his grandchildren.”
One family had a differing view. In a letter obtained from SNC by the Nation, Malcolm Dixon, whose land is on trapline W-23, agreed to the testing.
The letter reads in part:
THAT in consideration of his extremely old age and the state of health of Mr. Malcolm Dixon and his wife, the said Letter of Intent and Spirit is understood to clear the way for a process to be set up for negotiations leading to a compensation package for the Dixon family as proposed by SNC TEC.
Malcolm Dixon could not be reached for comment.
Some residents in Chapais are opposed to the project. “The contamination [of the soil] will come mostly from the source because of the oil in the machines,” said Isabelle Duval.
She says that the project won’t be an economic boom for Chapais like the proponents promised and the only jobs created will be for clean-up and security.
“They say they might stop testing for two weeks during the big game hunting season, but the people think that the hunt for small game will be compromised,” she said.
When the Nation spoke with Michael O’Neill, Comex’s secretary, he said that neither the Waswanipi band nor the Chief has relayed to the board their position regarding the range, even though they were slated to discuss the matter and review the impact on the land December 8.
A call to Waswanipi Chief Robert Kitchen confirmed that the band hadn’t yet passed a resolution against the firing range, nor had they contacted Comex to express their position.
Chief Kitchen told us that they were opposed to the project but hadn’t stated their intentions yet.
“SNC was pushing for us to get it done quickly, but we are going to go by our own pace,” said Kitchen.
“We were going to adopt a resolution against the firing range on December 14, however with this new information I guess we’ll have to have an emergency meeting,” he said.
Kitchen explained the delay in stating the band’s position is due to council’s efforts to hear all sides on the issue. “At first the tallymen and the CTA thought the project would be good for the community because of the employment it would create. Now they have come out against it because of environmental concerns, and the impact it would have on their traplines,” said Kitchen.
SNC Technologies spokesperson Danielle Cantin said that the company is there to work with the people. “If the project goes through and some people have problems with it because of the noise or something else, we will help to accommodate them,” she said. “We want to work with the Cree people, not against them.”
Cantin went on to say that the Comex review was not so much about environmental concerns but was more of a study on the social implications.
“Environment Canada has done a very big study over 50 years at Lac St. Pierre in Nicolet, and concluded that this project is not harmful to the environment,” she said.
“One of the dangers before SNC took over the project was that the ammunition would land in the lake unexploded. Since SNC took over from the National Defense there have not been any incidents like this. We have radar to track the munitions and if one doesn’t explode, we will stop the project to find out why.”
Allan Gull, whose family’s trapline will be directly affected, was one of many who voiced their concerns when SNC met with members of Waswanipi on November 3.
His father Clarence is sick and is not able to use the trapline anymore. Taking care of it in his place are Allan and brothers Jimmy, Stanley and Benoit, who also acts as the tallyman.
“There’s virgin forest that hasn’t been touched in a long time that Native and non-native people hunt in,” said Allan, the most outspoken of the brothers. “It’s an area my family likes to hunt in.
“If they come in and test the ammunition for 12 months a year for 30 years straight… the animals have very strong hearing and it would hurt them and chase them away and because of that I don’t agree with this project,” Gull said, adding that if it was the wish of his family to accept compensation from SNC for use of the land, he would go along with what they decide.
“This is Cree territory, if my family disagrees with the project I’ll never stop fighting it.”