The Grand Council of the Crees

Submission to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources..

Submission to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations

Posted: 2000-03-28

Ottawa - Check Against Delivery

Our trees are gone. When the trees are gone, the animals are gone and all the land is destroyed. They all came from the outside, from non-native economic development. That is where we have our problems, with our hunting and fishing, our traditional way of life -- You heard about forestry and those people that are the leaders of Quebec and Canada, they are the ones that are letting the developers come into our territory to do what nobody has asked us, asked for our consent or to talk about it. Nobody asked us for our consent, if we approve or are in favour of these projects.Chief Allen Happyjack
Cree Nation of Waswanipi June 9, 1992

Wachyia and good afternoon. On behalf of the members of the Grand Council and the Cree Nation, we would like to thank all the committee members for inviting us today to explain our views on forest management practices and international trade. We note that our invitation to appear before this committee came two days after Grand Council representatives met privately with the Assistant United States Trade Representative and the Director of Canadian Affairs to discuss this very subject -- trade and the unsustainable forestry practices it supports. Respectfully, it seems that once you start speaking out about the social and environmental injustices of Canada in the halls of foreign governments domestic doors finally start to open.The same day we received our invitation for today, we also received a call from the President of the Canadian Lumber Council. In case you did not know, this same person also heads up a company called Tembec, one of the 27 forestry companies that the Grand Council has before the courts. We find it ironic that despite having sued this company for its part in over $500 million in past forestry related damages, and despite having a judgement in the Superior Court of Quebec that categorizes his company's operations in Quebec as being "inoperative and unconstitutional", he chooses to make direct contact with the Grand Council only after we criticize the industry's practices in Washington. The domestic reaction to the first of what will be many trips to United States in the coming months is an affirmation of a belief that we have had all along. Canada's unsustainable forest management practices are more than just an international trade issue. These practices are an issue of human rights and global environmental security. And given that the federal government has recently joined in with the government of Quebec and the forest industry to remove a judge from a case that threatens the forestry status quo, forest management practices have become linked to the integrity of our justice system.We should point out that our activities in the U.S. and Europe have come about because we have exhausted our domestic avenues. For example, 6 years ago we were here before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources addressing the impacts that forestry were having on Cree hunters. At that time we said (and I quote):

"Our presence before your committee today serves to demonstrate that the mechanisms provided under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement?our treaty with Canada and Quebec--have failed to address forestry issues and I should think that it is not from lack of effort on our part. Submission after submission has been made and disregarded by federal and Quebec authorities. All the while, almost one family hunting territory per year has and continues to be wiped out."

When we gave this submission 6 years ago, the rate of logging in the James Bay Region was approximately 5 million cubic metres per year. On the ground this translated into over 400 hundred square kilometres of cumulated clear-cut lands per year. Today the annual harvest from the territory is nearly 8 million cubic metres with over 800 square kilometres being clear-cut. And so here we are again -- deja vu -- before yet another parliamentary committee with the same message that we have had for the last 15 years. Canada's forest management practices, and in particular Quebec's, are not environmentally or socially sustainable. It is obvious that no one in government is willing to address our concerns or listen to what the Crees have to say, but we take solace in the realization that there is a growing chorus of others who are coming to recognize the importance of what the Crees have been saying for so long. For example last years' Report of the Senate Sub-Committee on Boreal Forest entitled Competing Realities: The Boreal Forest at Risk boldly states:

"The world's boreal forest, a resource of which Canada is a major trustee, is under siege"Highly mechanized timber harvesting is proceeding at a rapid pace, as is mineral and petroleum exploration and extraction. At the same time, the boreal forest is being asked to provide a home and way of life for aboriginal communities, habitat for wildlife, an attraction for tourism and a place where biodiversity and watersheds are protected."

Add to this Dr. David Schindler, Canada's most distinguished fresh water scientist who ran the Experimental Lakes research centre in the boreal forests of northwestern Ontario for over 20 years. Just last week he was on CBC Radio warning that logging in the boreal forests across Canada was occurring at a level twice what would be considered sustainable. One the same day (March 21st) that Dr. Schindler made his comments, a columnist in the National Post wrote:

According to Statistics Canada's latest figures, the logging industry -- for all the devastation it causes -- only account for about one half of one percent of the GDP. To make that one half of one percent happen, our governments spend more than $2 billion annually in direct forestry subsidies, about what they receive in stumpage for the trees, and several times as much in indirect subsidies. That makes logging a great cost "not a great benefit" to forested provinces and to the country as a whole.

And its not just Canadians who are commenting on the precarious state of our boreal forests, last month the Washington based World Resources Institute released its review of the state of forests in Canada. Entitled, Canada's Forests at a Crossroads: An Assessment in the Year 2000, the report stated (under the heading of Sustainability):

Taken together, these measures (measures to ensure sustainability) suggest that while more intensive management has resulted in improved regeneration rates, current harvest rates are maintained by cutting extensive areas of primary and old growth forest. There are constraints to expanding operations into new areas, as most tenured areas face some form of productivity limitations for commercial forestry. Furthermore, tenures already extend into far northern forests, which require very long periods of time to regenerate. Case studies estimate that the rate of logging in Canada would have to decline by 10 to 25 percent in the boreal forests of Canada.

To add to this growing chorus, let us not forget the work of Quebec's preeminent folk singer Richard Desjardins whose film L'Erreur boréale has sparked a public movement in Quebec for reform of its unsustainable forest management practices. At a press conference last month Mr. Desjardins expressed his hope that the management of Quebec's forests would be an issue in the next provincial election. This may not seem too remote considering the findings of a recent poll conducted by researchers at the University of Laval which indicated that forestry workers from forestry towns in Quebec are two times more likely to be critical of current forest management than those of the urban centres. Back in the James Bay Territory, the Vice President of Norbord's Lumber Operations, Jean Roy, stated in a company publication that the Crees might have a legal case.

"When you read the James Bay Agreement and the law on forests and the environment, they may not be compatible. So on that basis, their contention must be listened to and considered."

And so now with many voices singing the same song, we are about to embark upon another round of negotiations over softwood lumber trade between Canada and the United States. Under the current agreement, the Canadian industry claims to be penalized nearly $1 billion annually and so we can be sure these negotiations will be a high-stakes game of poker. For the American lumber industry, they claim that low environmental standards (e.g. lack of a federal Endangered Species Act), long-term monopolistic tenure agreements, low stumpage fees for public timber and industry incentives (e.g. Quebec just committed $100 million to provincial pulp mills in its budget two weeks ago) have made it nearly impossible for them to compete with the flood of cheap Canadian wood on to the U.S. market. On the Canadian side of the coin, the industrial lobby is calling for a return to free trade, citing NAFTA, recent increases in stumpage fees and strong support from the U.S. construction industry as justification for free and open trade in softwood lumber.In typical closed door WTO fashion, seats at this poker game are limited to those who can afford to pay the anti. In other words, negotiations will start and end with shortsighted economics with little attention for those whose concerns falling outside of the bottom line and profit margins. For the Cree Nation, destructive forestry practices now threaten our economic and cultural future and yet we are not considered part of the trade discussion. In 1998 the forestry industry in Quebec exported $10.1 billion in forest products (second only to British Columbia). Eight-seven percent of these exports were destined for the U.S. In documents submitted in Court by the government of Quebec, nearly 20 percent of this wood originates from treaty lands under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.This Treaty, signed by Quebec, Canada and the Crees in 1975, came about as a result of a dispute over resource development (the James Bay I Hydro-electric Project) and addresses the future exploitation of resources in the Region. The Agreement opens the door to Cree employment in development but makes future resource exploitation subject to protection of the environment and Cree way of life on the land. This is expressed in the "Principle of Conservation" set out in the Treaty:

"(Conservation) means the pursuit of the optimum natural productivity of all living resources and the protection of ecological systems of the Territory so as to protect endangered species and to ensure primarily the continuance of the traditional pursuits of Native people, and secondarily the satisfaction of the needs of non-Native people for sport hunting and fishing." (Section 24, James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement)

This definition of conservation, formulated in 1975, has since become known as "sustainable development" and it is at the heart of the Treaty. Our right to our way of life in an environment that will sustain it is recognized in the Canadian Constitution and as such has paramountcy over the rights of companies to exploit the resources.Moreover it brings into question the ability (right) of the government of Canada to exclude the Crees from any negotiations that have a direct impact on the Treaty rights of the Crees. In the words of Justice Croteau of the Superior Court of Quebec:

"when the Canadian Parliament adopted the Constitution in 1982, its modifications in 1983 and the Law on the Application of the JBNQA (James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement), it chose to limit its sovereignty."

This judgement was made against a motion by the government of Canada, requesting to be dismissed as a defendant in the ongoing case concerning Cree rights and forestry activities in the James Bay Territory. The limitation of sovereignty regarding Canada's fiduciary obligations towards the Crees and forestry that Justice Croteau refers to must also be applied to trade negotiations that will have an adverse affect on the boreal forest, which in-turn, violate the Crees' constitutionalized Treaty rights. By virtue of Canada's signature on the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and its adoption of Section 35 of the Constitution, the government is legally compelled to uphold the rights of the Crees under the Treaty. Instead, Canada continues to ignore these rights and works with the Quebec and the companies to further economic interests at the expense of the boreal forest and the Crees right to hunt, fish and trap in those forests. We believe that our Treaty rights in the James Bay Territory constitute a legal encumbrance over the forestry resources and thus we challenge Canada's right to negotiate trade agreements over softwood that includes wood from the James Bay territory. Thus far Canada's record on carrying out its fiduciary imperatives on our behalf is shameful, particularly its role in the coup to remove Justice Croteau from our forestry case because he had the guts to recognize and apply the law -- the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Even with the Canada/U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement in place, logging on our lands has increased by 45%. And now the companies and their government appointed lobbyists at the Canadian Forest Service, Canada and Quebec all expect us swallow this nonsense about "Free Trade". The only thing free about this proposed trade is the fact that governments and companies do not have to take responsibility for the damage they cause. Is this what the Canadian Lumber Council tells their U.S. lobbying friends in the construction industry-- "Don't worry about the social and environmental damage, the Crees will pick up those costs".

Well my friends, I'm here to tell you not any more -- The Crees Nation will take matters, including those related to international trade, into our own hands from now on.

Meegwetch.