The Grand Council of the Crees

Bill 136: Cree Oral Presentation to the National Assembly

Bill 136: Cree Presentation to the National Assembly

Posted: 2000-10-18

OCTOBER 18, 2000

We thank the members of this Parliamentary Committee for the opportunity to submit our views on Bill 136, an Act to amend the Forest Act and other legislative provisions. You received our written comments in August. Today I will build upon those comments. As is customary, all comments are made on a without prejudice basis.

The forests of Eeyou Istchee are very important to the Crees. They are central to our society, our cultural and spiritual values and most importantly, our economy. As I speak, over 4000 full-time Cree hunters are actively preparing camps for the fall and winter season. For at least another 4000 Crees who are seasonal workers, hunting and fishing provides a vital supplement to their incomes in times when work is scarce. This is why we Crees, as a People, continue to look upon the boreal forest environment and all the animals it supports as the dominant force in our lives. It has been this way since time immemorial. And we hope it will continue this way. This is our challenge. In many ways our passion for the boreal forest environment is like the Quebecois passion for the French language. They are elements that we both see as crucial to the survival of our cultures. And they are elements that we both would defend at all costs. If my words today accomplish anything, let it be that this is our common understanding of what is at stake when Crees speak of forestry. Contrary to what some of you may have read in the media, this issue is not about money. Cree culture is not for sale. While it is true that the Crees favour a larger role in the forest industry--as is our right under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement--we will never choose this option at the expense of our family hunting territories. Nor would we sell our culture for a share in a troubled industry. And contrary to what you may have also read, Cree support for this principle is firm. Unlike the government and industry, we conduct credible consultations with our people. As Deputy Grand Chief, I know public support is firm because I have been present at many public meetings to hear the conviction of our people. This is not to say that the Crees wish to shut down forestry altogether. We believe forestry is possible; but not the way it is being done in Eeyou Istchee. What we have there is a recipe for boom and bust. We have all seen it before. Everyone knows about the cod in the Maritimes, the iron in Shefferville and now the forests in Gaspe. In many ways our efforts at changing this boom and bust recipe can be seen as defending the interests of Quebec. This is a point that some news editors have recognized when they said the Crees fight to protect the public forest does all Quebecers a service. Remember what the Crees advised about the Great Whale project and how if built, it would plunge the government into debt. Do you think this government shelved that project because of our rights? I do not think so. The reason it was shelved was because they knew it was unsupportable financially. I submit that it is the same situation with forestry, only this time the government is not willing to listen to the Crees. Our view on Bill 136 is straightforward. Passing this Bill would simply be following in the footsteps of the current Forest Act and Law 105, both of which ignore the regime established under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The fundamental principle of the Agreement and its regime is to protect our rights, our way of life and the environment. Let us not forget that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement explicitly states that the Agreement shall prevail over any legislation that conflicts with its provisions. Thus far, only Justice Croteau has taken this to heart. For at least 20 years the Crees have appealed to various Ministers of the Quebec Government in attempt to have the provisions of forestry legislation respect our Treaty rights under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. It is the ongoing lack of respect for the Agreement and the failure to implement the provisions safeguarding those rights that is at the source of our legal confrontation, which is making its way toward the Supreme Court of Canada. Again, this is why Justice Croteau took the moral and legal highroad and pronounced the forestry regime in Quebec as being "inoperative and unconstitutional." Well at least we now know what happens to Quebec Judges who challenge the interests of the industry and government. It is a lesson that I hope other Judges have not taken to heart. What are the rights that the Crees are always talking about? What rights could be so important or controversial that multi-million dollar lawsuits are filed, Judges are recused, and international boycotts are launched? Without entirely repeating what can be found in our written submission, let me crystallize the issue here by quoting the "Principle of Conservation" from Section 24 that addresses Hunting Fishing and Trapping in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement: "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 the continuance of the traditional pursuits of the Native people, and secondarily the satisfaction of the needs of the non-Native people for sport hunting and fishing. Clearly, the purpose of Section 24 is to affirm Cree harvesting rights and to affirm the priority of those rights through the conservation of the wildlife resources upon which we depend. The parties to the Agreement intended that the Eeyou way of life, our culture, practices, values and traditions would not only continue, but be protected through this Principle of Conservation. Unfortunately, in failing to apply the protective mechanisms under Section 22 of the Agreement's Environmental Regime, including the provisions for social and environmental assessment and the recommendations of the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment; forestry undermines the principle of conservation to the detriment of the boreal forest environment and our way of life. If you turn to the map that we distributed you will see what I am talking about. This family hunting territory, W 11 B, has been completely clear-cut. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why we all are entangled in a protracted struggle. It is due to the failure of government to recognize and act upon their fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the boreal forest environment achieves its optimum natural productivity. And when we hold Bill 136 up to the light we see more fiduciary neglect. Let us look at how forestry in Eeyou Istchee has changed in the last 10 years prior to the introduction of Bill 136. According to the Government's own figures the total harvest for zone 10, which approximates 80% of Eeyou Istchee, was 18.8 million cubic metres for the 5 years running from 1990 to 1994. That averages to 3.7 million cubic metres annually. By 1997 and 1998 this figure climbed to 6.2 million cubic metres. In this same year the softwood lumber harvest for Zone 10 exceeded the 1997 Annual Allowable Cut by over 900,000 cubic metres or nearly 20%. And so over the course of the last the decade there has been a marked increase in the amount of wood harvested in the north. This increased harvest has occurred under a supposed system of sustained yield to the point where the softwood lumber harvest exceeded the Annual Allow Cut by a significant measure. Now let us turn to the project of Bill 136. Chief among the many concerns that we have about this proposed legislation is the prospect of even more harvesting through the adoption of a system of increased yield. Although government references to this concept focus on intensifying forest management activities to increase future yields of the forest, we are concerned that this system is being promoted as means to increase the level of cutting in Eeyou Istchee. We believe the government plans to use the increased yield concept as an interest rate above and beyond what the forest can regenerate naturally. Increasing this interest rate artificially will then be used to justify more cutting. In other words the government plans to spend the principle'the public forest resource -- on the hope that it can make up the loss with higher interest rates in the future. These are neither sound financial management practices nor are they sound resource management practices. In Bill 136's accompanying document entitled Our Forest Inheritance, the Ministry of Natural Resources boasts that it spends -- almost $10 million annually -- to develop an accurate forecasting of what future regeneration rates will be. When considering that in 1997 the total value of shipments for Quebec's forest industry was $19.6 billion, the Ministry's research and development figure appears somewhat insignificant. After all the jackpot for last Friday's Super 7 Lotto was for $20 million -- double what the Ministry spends on predicting the future of a multi-billion industry and the thousands of jobs that go with it. And yet based on this shameful level of research and development, the government postulates through Bill 136 that the forest industry can continue to grow--that further timber allocations can be made and that additional mills can be opened. Even when the government's own levels of sustainability -- its Annual Allowable Cut -- have already been surpassed in many areas. Remember Gaspe. Given this optimistic view, it is no surprise that Bill 136 has endowed the Minister with wide-ranging discretionary powers. Respectfully, we fear that these powers will need to be used as glue to keep the forestry ship from sinking for as long as possible. In the end however, and I am completely serious here, it will be the Crees, who depend on the optimum natural productivity of the forest environment, who will be left without a lifeboat. I said earlier that over the past 20 years the Crees have made similar presentations to other government committees. In a past testimony, most likely forgotten by those it was intended, a fellow Cree stated: "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." Sadly little has changed on the ground in Eeyou Istchee. However we take solace in the realization that there is a growing chorus of people from all sectors who are coming to realize the importance of what the Crees have been saying for so long. Last year a Senate Sub-Committee boldly stated:

"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 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."

And its not just Canadians who are commenting on the precarious state of our boreal forests, in a document entitled Canada?s Forests at a Crossroads: An Assessment in the Year 2000 by the Washington based World Resources Institute, they warned:

"There are constraints to expanding operations into new areas, as most tenured areas face some form of productivity limitation 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."

Echoing the World Resources concern over expansion into the northern forest's Quebec's Council for Forest Research advised this committee of their concern over how little foresters know about the northern forests. Even the President of Tembec, is warning this committee that the forests are not well. As he stated:

"The most severe problem that we have to face is the lack of wood. For sure I can tell you this is how it is at La Sarre. Twenty years ago the average log entering the paper mill was 6 and ? inches. Today it is 4 and ? inches. This is a real problem because we have overexploited our forests."

Perhaps this is why, the Vice President of Norbord's Lumber operations, Jean Roy, stated in a company publication that the Crees might have a sound legal case. He said: 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. Ladies and gentlemen the writing is on the wall and it has been there for sometime. If you will recall, in 1986 the Minister of Quebec's forests publicly stated that the forests could not sustain the cutting levels then. And so I ask you where did all this new wood come from, especially when cutting has continued and even exceeded the levels that Minister Cote warned about in 1986? We submit that little has changed on the supply side since 1986. We also submit that instead of making the difficult but necessary decisions required, the government is following the footsteps of their predecessors in 1986 to the detriment of the Crees, our rights and the forests of Eeyou Istchee. This is why we recommend to the committee that for Eeyou Istchee, Bill 136 be dropped and that the government commissions an open public environmental and social assessment on forestry in the northern boreal forests. Then, following the results of this assessment, a new and separate forestry regime be established for Eeyou Istchee with harvesting level appropriate to all inhabitants of the region. The distinct constitutional regime agreed to in 1975 through the James Bay and Northern Agreement clearly warrants such course of action Given the undeniable evidence that has been presented to this Parliamentary Commission from all sectors, it is irresponsible to continue with the Bill 136. The Cree Nation urges the government not to bow to the pressure of the industry?s insatiable need for wood at all costs. We urge the government to take the necessary decisions that should have been taken in 1986 and establish a regime guided by sound environmental management and respect for the rights of all who live in the territory.

[1] Ministry of Natural Resources, Quebec's Forest Resources and Industry: A Statistical Report 2000 Edition. (Quebec: Government of Quebec 2000) ; Ministry of Natural Resources, Summary report on the state of Quebec's forests 1990-1994: The Era of Sustainable Development, Forestry in Constant Evolution (Government of Quebec)