Broadback on the chopping block

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“The Cree people of Waswanipi have occupied, governed and protected the land in Waswanipi Eenou Istchee since time immemorial,” said Waswanipi Chief Marcel Happyjack addressing a COMEX hearing in his community on January 19.

“As occupants of the land…we have a responsibility to take a leadership stand and protect the Cree way of life, the survival of a habitat, an ecosystem and an entire species, to ensure a sustainable environment for our children and for generations to come.”

Since 2002 Waswanipi has been fighting development in the Broadback region and despite their best efforts, 90% of the surrounding territory has been impacted by road-building and harvesting by the forestry industry.

The latest chapter in their battle to see the remaining virgin forest of the Broadback designated as protected territory involved a visit from the Environmental and Social Impact Review committee (the independent government agency known as COMEX) to meet with local officials, residents, stakeholders and Matériaux Blanchet Inc. in Waswanipi. Matériaux Blanchet is representing a number of companies that hope to expand the network of logging roads in the territory and harvest more of the boreal forest for business.

Chief Happyjack says that the development plans would see 126 kilometres of additional roads constructed and 113,000 hectares of land disappear, bringing “total devastation to the trappers’ way of life… hunting, fishing and trapping.”

Greenpeace is now emphasizing the effort to preserve the Broadback, having recently launched an international campaign to prevent further forestry in the area.

Waswanipi Eenou and Greenpeace activists agree that one of the few pristine forests left in Quebec is crucial in the fight against climate change, an issue that Chief Happyjack says should no longer be ignored.

“We’re not anti-development, we’re not anti-forestry,” said Happyjack. “We just want something that will ensure the protection of Cree rights and protect the species that are within the area.”

COMEX hearing Waswanipi

Nicolas Mainville, spokesperson for Greenpeace and a leader of the organization’s Forest Campaign, said that at least 120 Cree were on hand during the Comex hearing, sporting large banners denouncing road-building and logging in the area.

“Inside the hearing there were lots of people with banners, there were banners all over the walls actually,” said Mainville. “[Banners] saying no to the roads, asking to protect the last of their forest and saying no to the project. Not one single person who was there approved it. Everybody who was there was saying no to the roads.”

Mainville went on to say that the highlight of the event was a heartfelt speech given by Alan Saganash, brother of MP Romeo Saganash (who was also present), and who likewise spoke to the crowd.

“It was a very emotional speech,” Mainville related. “There was a lot of emotion in the room. The fact that 90% of their land has already been clear-cut or fragmented, they’re very attached to this last piece of pristine forest.”

Now that public hearings have concluded, there is a 30-day waiting period during which stakeholders can submit further commentary on the project before COMEX issues its reports and makes recommendations to the Quebec government.

Greenpeace and Waswanipi activists are asking people to visit and send e-mails to COMEX president André Boisclair asking him to veto any further Broadback development.Broadback-Tupatukasi-Waterfall

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