Chief John Kitchen’s sawmill plan got another boost at Waswanipi’s general assembly in early January.

Residents voted 46-19 in favour of going ahead with the $5.2-million project. Six people abstained.

Chief Kitchen has touted the sawmill as a way out of Waswanipi’s unemployment difficulties. By the year 2000, the sawmill is expected to employ 59 Crees. Chief Kitchen expects to sign a final deal on the joint venture with Domtar Inc. at the beginning of February.

In the final deal, Domtar promises to consider hiring Crees as tree-planters and provide training to Crees Chief Kitchen said training funds are now available from the Cree Local Management Board, which in mid-January agreed to provide $420,000 to train 30 to 45 Crees for jobs at the mill.

Originally, the Waswanipi Mishtuk Corporation was to own 60 percent of the sawmill, and Domtar the remaining 40 percent. But in the final deal, Mishtuk will own only 55 per cent of the venture, and Domtar 45 per cent.

Mishtuk plans to harvest 128,000 cubic metres of logs from Category I and II lands for processing in the sawmill.

Also in the deal, Domtar promises to consider the concerns of Waswanipi trappers about its Lebel-sur-Quevillon and Matagami forestry operations. To help protect special sites from clearcutting, Domtar and Mishtuk will set up a joint committee with at least one tallyman as a member.

Not everyone is pleased that the sawmill is moving ahead. One Waswanipi resident who has followed the issue closely worried that $5.2 million is too much to pay for 59 jobs—nearly $100,000 per job. “Why don’t you give $100,000 to 60 individuals in the community and tell them to create jobs?” asked the resident, who asked to remain anonymous. He said the cost will likely go a lot higher in the end and said Waswanipi could be bailing out the sawmill’s deficits for years to come. In its first few years, the sawmill could run a deficit of $1 million, he said.

This resident worried that the sawmill has been rushed through. Forone thing, a second opinion wasn’t requested on the feasibility study done on the project for the band, he said. “We have to do it right. We have to take time. There isn’t anything there for our children, like a trust fund.”

Waswanipi trappers, for their part, are concerned about Domtar’s plans to build a new logging road into the heartland of the moose lands north of the community. “I don’t like it at all,” said Paul Dixon, the Local CTA Fur Officer. “They’re going into new virgin grounds. It’s a very sensitive area. The tallymen there don’t like it. Everything is being shoved down their throats.”

Also at Waswanipi’s general assembly, residents voted in favour of a proposal by youth councillor Sam Gull to hold a broad public inquiry into the state of the Cree way of life in the community, especially taking into account the impacts of forestry and other development projects. “We want to look at what happened in the past, what’s happening today and how we’re going to protect our Cree way of life in the future— to make sure we’re a nation tomorrow,” said Gull.

Gull plans to submit a proposal to the Band Council and Grand Council of the Crees for funding by the end of March.

(additional research by Will Nicholls)