Logging operations spark tensions

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The company and the SQ are saying that they have a copy of a signed document from our main harvester allowing the cutting to happen,” said Norman Matchewan. “But our harvesters are here with us at the campsite, saying they never gave consent or signed any document.”

The people of Barriere Lake have repeatedly found themselves fighting desperately to protect their lands from clear-cutting and resource extraction. In this case, the Mitchikanibikok Inik, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, are working to stop Resolute Forest Products from clear-cutting their territory in Poigan Bay, Quebec.

Norman Matchewan, a community spokesperson for the Mitchikanibikok Inik, was recently acquitted of mischief and obstruction of justice in a case involving AbitibiBowater (now Resolute Forest Products). Matchewan was charged after allegedly setting up an illegal blockade, preventing the company from logging, but was acquitted when a company foreman was found to have misled the court.

According to Matchewan, his community was never shown any evidence that these documents exist. He argues that despite the company’s assertion that the government consulted harvesters from the community, Resolute Forest Products has no right to be logging on their territory.

Unhappy with the logging in Poigan Bay, the community has made their presence known around the logging site, stopping short of a blockade.

“We didn’t set up any blockade, we are just camping out on the side of the road,” said Matchewan. “People just went out there, and walked around.”

He says the Quebec government has not been in communication with the community over the logging dispute.

“There hasn’t been any response [from the government],” said Matchewan. “We’ve been asking them for the cutting permits, the trees that have been harvested, and what volume of wood has been harvested, so that we can assess the damages. They don’t want to provide us with anything.”

According to Resolute Forest Products spokesperson Pierre Choquette, the company has received all the necessary permits from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

“The ministry granted the company all licenses and permits necessary to conduct forest operations in this region,” he said. “We feel right now that we’re in the middle of a political tension that exists in Barriere. It’s not the company’s job to consult [with the community]. It’s up to the government to do those consultations and then hand out the permits. We’ve collaborated as best we could with the Nation itself and with the government.”

The Ministry of Natural resources did not respond to a request from the Nation for comment.

As of this writing, the SQ is present at the campsite, but according to Matchewan, has stopped short of making any arrests.

“Last week they were preventing us from going on the logging road that the company had built,” he said. “They were threatening us, that they were going to arrest us immediately on site if we went beyond the logging road. Then their actions totally changed when APTN arrived.”

“Since then, they just stood back and told us not to be surprised if they arrested anyone,” he said.

Michel Thusky, an Elder from the community, explained why the Mitchikanibikok Inik are committed to protecting their territory from deforestation.

“[The territory] is our identity,” he said. “Our identity means preserving our language. We have Algonquin place names, sacred sites, and traditional knowledge we want to pass down to our children and grandchildren. This is where we go to connect with the Creator, and to connect ourselves with our ancestors.”

“A nation without an identity is not a nation,” he said. “A nation without land is not a nation.”

When asked how far his community would take their resistance against the logging, Thusky’s response was both short and to the point.

“It’s a matter of survival,” he said.

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