In August 2012, after weeks of direct action by ABL members protesting Resolute Forest Products' logging activities on their territory, the Quebec government agreed to a major concession: Resolute would “harmonize” its logging operations with the Barriere Lake community’s use of their lands. The agreement implemented an aspect of the historic Trilateral Agreement, which calls for consultation and accommodation.
Fast forward to December 9, 2013. Members of the ABL community in a direct action are traveling more than 30 miles from their Kitiganik homes to set up a land protection camp to stop Resolute Forest Products from violating the agreement by clear-cutting more of the forest in the First Nation’s 3,900-square-mile territory. The Province of Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources issued logging permits for the 2013–14 operating year to Resolute Forest Products and other large logging companies that have destroyed vast tracts of the forest this past summer and fall, Barriere Lake Chief Case Ratt said.
“The Quebec government did this without any meaningful consultation with the community,” Ratt said. “What’s happening is we’re going into the various areas where they’re cutting without any consultation, and we’re asking them to leave the site until ‘measures to harmonize’ within that are done.”
Measures to harmonize are agreed upon after the community has examined the cutting zones and determined whether the area includes animal habitats or locations where medicinal plants are gathered, or any area of cultural or spiritual significance. The community has the right to veto logging in those areas, the chief said.
Ratt said community leaders are scheduled to meet with representatives of the Quebec Minister of Natural Resources Pierre Menard on December 10. Menard could not be reached immediately for comment. Measures to harmonize need to be put in place urgently, Ratt said.
“They cut 24 hours a day and can cut a huge area in that time,” he said.
The community is demanding that the Quebec government cooperate in the process of identifying and protecting cultural and ecological sites and that it honor the 1991 Trilateral Agreement and related 1998 Agreement with Quebec on Co-Management and Resource Revenue Sharing, among other issues.
The Trilateral Agreement is a resource-use agreement between the First Nation, the Canadian federal government and the Quebec government that was supposed to create a sustainable development plan for the community’s traditional 3,900 square miles that would include revenue sharing, resource co-management and economic independence for Barriere Lake. The Trilateral Agreement was praised by the United Nations, but neither Quebec nor Canada have implemented it. Ratt said the government has never fully abided by the agreement.
“Up to this day, no,” he said. “They’ve always found ways to undermine the process or just walk away from it. We’re doing everything we can to make sure they do come to the table.”
One of the measures used to undermine the agreement was to change the name of the land, Ratt said.
“Although it’s all Algonquin territory, the area used to be designated as a provincial park,” he said. “But there’s no logging in provincial parks, so they changed the name to ‘Reserve Faunique” [wildlife reserve], which allowed all the logging companies to come in and harvest timber from our territory.”
The forest is not the only resource the community wants to protect. In 2011, Barriere Lake won a major victory when Cartier Resources agreed to suspend its Rivière Doré copper mining project on the community’s traditional land. The suspension followed months of peaceful direct actions by community members.
“There is a chance that mining will be going on in our territory but we’ll resist that type of exploration in our community again,” Ratt said, adding that there’s no way to calculate exactly how much of the First Nation’s land has been logged. “They [the government] stopped consulting three years ago. They took advantage that our community was going through a leadership dispute at the time.”
The dispute has since been settled with an election and majority vote, he said, but consultation has not been re-established.
“They’ve done a lot of logging since the early1980s, so this is what we’re trying to minimize,” Ratt added. “Hopefully, one day the community will have a complete say on what happens in our territory.”
The community may yet take the issue to an international arena.
“There are options out there that the community will explore,” Ratt said. “We’re going to do everything we can and if that’s the next step, so be it.”