Forestry Working Group Annual Report 1998-99
Last year it was reported that the Forestry Working Group had initiated an open dialogue with the provincial government. Broadly, the key issues the Cree members were putting forward were:
After over a year of fruitless dialogue with Quebec on these issues, the Forestry Working Group recommended to the Cree leadership that further pressure was needed to bring about a serious negotiating table. As the result, the Crees filed a forestry case in Quebec Superior Court on July 15, 1998. Within this case the Crees sued both Canada and Quebec and 27 forestry companies that are or have operated in Eeyou Istchee since 1975. Aside from asking for compensation for past damages, the Crees are also requesting that the Court order the governments and companies to respect the Crees' Aboriginal and Treaty rights to ensure that the traditional Cree way of life is protected and that the Cree have a meaningful role in forestry in Eeyou Istchee.
With the advent of this legal action, the Mario Lord case, and the potential of further legal undertakings, the province eventually asked the Crees to sit down and attempt to negotiate a solution to the forestry conflict. Throughout June of 1999, the Crees met with Quebec in what was called a "blitz" of negotiations to try and forge An Agreement in Principle in Forestry. Once signed, this Agreement in Principle was to pave the way for detailed negotiations for a Final Agreement on Forestry. During the course of these negotiations, the Cree team sought ways in which the four key Cree issues, listed at the outset of this report, could be operationalized within a new forestry regime. Despite the best efforts of the Cree negotiators, they were unable to persuade Quebec to accept the measures required to protect the Cree traditional way of life and ensure that Crees participate fully in the development and management of the forest resource.
Upon receiving Q'ebec?s final offer on forestry, the negotiators recommended to the five Cree Chiefs affected by forestry that the province's offer be rejected. The five Chiefs' were in agreement with this advice and then voted unanimously in favour of filing interlocutory injunction proceedings with respect to the province's failure to subject forestry management plans to environment review under section 22 of the JBNQA. The Crees are asking the Court to suspend the approval of any new forestry plans or permits until they undergo thorough environmental review. This case was filed in the Quebec Superior Court on July 8, 1999.
Another key highlight from the past year was the Cree representations made before the Senate Subcommittee on the Boreal Forest. In late October of 1998, the Senate Subcommittee heard from representatives of Waswanipi, Ouje-Bougoumou and the Grand Council and of the damage that current forestry operations were inflicting upon the Crees. This committee also made a special visit to Mistissini to hear first hand from trappers directly affected. In the Subcommittee's final report, they concluded that the boreal forest is "under siege", and so it seems clear that Cree involvement with this committee had an impact.
Released in late June 1999, the Senate's report strengthens Cree claims that existing forest practices are not sustainable. The report also adds to a growing public movement in Quebec that is questioning the way forestry is being conducted in the north. The Cree Forestry Working Group hopes to harness this public sentiment on forestry in order to bring sustainability to forestry development and protect Cree rights and their way of life.
As a final note, we are pleased to report that Sam Etapp has replaced Jack Blacksmith as Forestry Working Group Coordinator.