The Grand Council of the Crees

Quebec Forestry Practices Violate Cree Rights

Quebec Forestry Practices Violate Cree Rights

Posted: 1998-07-15

Montreal, Matthew CoonCome, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Eeyou Istchee today announces the undertaking of an action in the Quebec Superior Court to stop the present destructive forest management practices in Eeyou Istchee and to quash the regime supporting these practices. The request to the courts also asks the Court to order the Quebec Government to abide by the terms of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and to respect its own Forestry Act.In 1974 the total amount of land allocated to forest companies in our territory, Eeyou Istchee, was 24,000 km2 . By 1994 this figure had doubled to 52,000 km2.In the rest of Quebec, the average area leased to one forestry company by the government is 1,600 km2. However, in Eeyou Istchee, the average company forest land lease is 3,471 km2. One, company, Barrette Chapais, has a single lease contract for an area over 17,000 km2--4, 000 km2 larger than the state of Connecticut. This one lease is more than ten times the provincial average and represents 33% of the commercial forest in Eeyou Istchee. The company, like other non-native companies on the Territory, employs few Crees if any."From the signature of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to this day Quebec has not respected its commitment to the Cree People to ensure that forestry development is carried out in such a way as to protect our traditional way of life. After 23 years of forestry operations and provincial forest regimes that pay minimal or no regard to our rights we are now prepared to fight," stated Grand Chief Matthew CoonCome.

Among other things the 1975 Agreement promises:

"- A procedure whereby environmental and social laws and regulations and land use regulations may from time to time be adopted if necessary to minimize the negative impact of development in or affecting the Territory upon the Native people and the wildlife resources of the Territory;- The protection of native people, societies, communities, economies, with respect to developmental activity affecting the Territory;-The protection of wildlife resources, physical and biotic environment, and ecological systems in the Territory with respect to developmental activity affecting the Territory":"Where are the special laws to protect our society? We have tried to work with the Government of the Province of Quebec, virtually without result. The attitude of the government is to refuse to recognize and include special Cree rights under the Agreement in the implementation of the policies and in the laws and regulations used to determine how forestry operations are to be undertaken. In spite of these solemn commitments the Quebec Forest Act does not even mention the Crees," stated Jack Blacksmith coordinator of the Cree, Forestry Working Group.The Quebec forest industry is mining out the forests on Eeyou Istchee, clear-cutting more than 500 sq. km of forest habitat each year. Quebec has adopted a system of land administration, which uses large land management units for determining the amount of wood that individual companies can cut. One of these management units can often encompass more than three Cree hunting territories. This system of land administration enables logging companies to plan logging operations without any regard to Cree use of the land. In many cases this has allowed logging companies to deplete up to 80% of a hunting territory in as little as twenty years.The environment is of little consequence to them. Roads are built into previously virgin areas without affording the local Cree families any protection or role in land use decisions. An age-old system of land management and social organization is being destroyed. Even the present Quebec standards for road construction are often violated as the majority of the roads are conveniently exempted from any kind of environmental review, as are the forestry operations themselves. Cutting is going on in the absence of any integrated land use planning, which under the Forestry Act and under the Treaty would have to integrate the commitments of government to the protection of the Cree traditional way of life and the environment." It is intolerable that the solemn promises of Quebec to the Crees be left up to industry to determine. The Agreement of 1975 calls for laws and regulations in this situation and Quebec has failed to put into place the required protections. This attack on our rights has been systematic, and long-term and has survived successive governments in the Province," continued the Grand Chief:Canada has moved to systematically seek court rulings, which undermine its responsibility for the protection of Cree rights and for the environment. Canada has also been negligent in failing to put into place the laws, regulations and administrative mechanisms necessary for the protections promised in 1975. The problem is systematic and amounts to a bias to favour. Provincial over Cree interests.In the 1975 Agreement the Cree right to hunt fish and trap and to live on the land as they always have done were recognized and in 1982 were included under the Constitution of Canada. Such rights are also recognized under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states: "All peoples may for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources... ' In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence." (Part 1, Article 1.2)The Crees therefore ask the Court to prohibit the named defendant corporations from carrying out forestry practices that violate Cree international, aboriginal and treaty rights throughout Eeyou Istchee. We also seek orders to require all forestry operations operating on Eeyou Istchee to undergo full federal and provincial impact assessment.We also seeking damages for statutory and Past breaches by Canada and Quebec of their Constitutional, Treaty, legal, statutory and contractual duties;

Forestry practices that have harmed the environment and the spiritual, cultural, and economic rights of many, many Cree individuals;