August 24, 2000
Letter to the editor
Following the blocking of a logging road by an Algonquin family and their outside supporters in the La Verendrye Reserve, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake want to underline a few points for your readers to better understand what is at stake here.
It is important to know that we, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, value a peaceful and respectful coexistence with all beings in the area. We acknowledged long ago the needs of the non- Native communities which depend on logging for survival. Reluctantly, we have agreed that some cutting would take place under a Resource Management Plan which we would help design, so that it would not jeopardise the future of our traditional land.
That is why our First Nation got the governments of Canada and Québec to commit to a Trilateral Agreement in 1991. We wanted to arrive at a plan which will allow for peaceful coexistence of all the stakeholders, within our traditional territory, based on the principle of «sustainable development». Protection of our traditional way of life, versatile use and access of the territory, conservation and bio-diversity are other objectives of that agreement.
This process works. It may be slow and tedious, but it works. In fact, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended it as a model for reconciliation of resource conflicts. Forestry operations are indeed taking place but in a manner which is harmonized with Algonquin traditional activities. Clear cutting is now very limited under the Trilateral Agreement. We have established 5-km buffer zones in which no cutting is allowed around settlement areas, (such is the case for Kokomville itself) and 2-km buffer zones around cabin sites.
Consultation of our people is built into the process. The Kokomville group was specifically consulted on a plan for the Gull Lake area (which they are blocking today) in November and December, 1999. Jacob Wawatie agreed to participate in the process and his comments were incorporated into the plan which was developed for the area.
The Algonquins of Barriere Lake are collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a Conservation Suitability Analysis, with a view to establishing protected areas within the Trilateral Agreement Territory. The Gull Lake area close to Kokomville has been the selected zone for the pilot study. .../2
We must, sadly, conclude, that the Kokomville group is not blocking the road for environmental reasons. Their motivation is above all political.
This family is, in fact, part of the same group which challenged the legitimate customary council in Barriere Lake in 1996, when the minister of Indian Affairs of the day, Ron Irwin, unilaterally, and, against the wish of the vast majority of community members, replaced our customary council with an Interim Band Council.
When Indian Affairs finally restored the customary council in April 1997, the Kokomville group refused to accept it and decided to split from the community. They now want Indian Affairs to recognize them as a separate band. This is the real agenda behind the blockade.
While in power, the Kokomville group and the Interim Band Council had a different environmental agenda. They worked very closely with Domtar; they even had a lawyer from Domtar acting for them; they allowed Domtar to build a logging road into the very area they are now blocking; some members of the Kokomville group even established a forestry cooperative and did some cutting themselves.
We do not dispute the right of people to tend to the basic needs of their families as they see fit. However, in doing so, they must ensure that they do not infringe upon the right of all members of the community to do the same. The customary council, by virtue of our Algonquin custom, has responsibility for expressing how this right of each of our members can best be achieved. We have opted for the principles underlying the Trilateral Agreement, which, unfortunately, the Kokomville group rejects.
It is also important to note that this family does not own the land it claims as its own. Aboriginal title to the land and stewardship is possessed by the First Nation and not individual families. Under custom, individual families use, occupy and have some stewardship responsibilities for the territories they use. The family which has responsibility for the area in question is not the Wawatie family, it is the Nottaway family. As a whole, the Nottaway family has not endorsed the blockade.
As an Elder, the customary Chief of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake and the uncle of several of the participants of the blockade, it is painful for me to have to make this clarification publicly.
Many statements have been made by the people of the Kokomville settlement which have no basis or are plainly false. It will serve no useful purpose to enter into this debate here. Suffice it to say that in our community, the customary Chief and Council are the main authority for dealing with traditional land use.
The community does not support the actions of the Kokomville group. We invite them, instead, to meet with us, again, to participate in the formulation and implementation of an Integrated Resources Management Plan which will truly protect our way of life for years to come.