The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have gained an unexpected victory in their decades-long struggle to secure their land rights and protect areas of cultural, spiritual and biological importance.
After carrying out a series of successful actions against Resolute Forest Products, the Quebec government and forestry company agreed to respect a key portion of the 1991 Trilateral agreement, a landmark sustainable development, conservation, and resource co-management plan for some 10,000 square kilometers of the Algonquin’s traditional territory.
Both Canada and Quebec have continuously refused to adhere to agreement, which they co-signed with Barriere Lake 21 years ago. The Algonquin community, in turn, has continuously protested and demanded that both governments honor their word. Those protests have been routinely confronted with the heavy hand of Quebec’s police forces.
Now it appears the Quebec government is starting to change its tune; though it’s perhaps a little too early to be giving them any kind of standing ovation. After all, the government was in the wrong and they knew it. Even without the Trilateral agreement, the Province had a constitutional obligation to work with First Nations in any decision that could affect them – and it does not get to choose when and under what circumstances it will do so.
That’s the whole reason Barriere Lake started speaking out in early July. Resolute Forest Products, the logging company formerly known as AbitibiBowater Inc., had begun an illegal logging operation near Poigan Bay, Quebec, in an area that holds sacred sites and an important moose habitat. The Ministry of Natural Resources issued permits to Resolute Forest Products without consulting or seeking the free, prior and informed consent of Barriere Lake.
After the First Nation’s initial response, a number of protests and other actions were carried out, including several successful stoppages of the company’s operations, a letter writing campaign, and powerful demonstration outside the offices of Resolute Forest Products and Premier Jean Charest in Montreal.
Media coverage of the situation was also quite strong throughout the month–a welcomed shift from the black hole that Barriere Lake has been routinely trapped in for the past few years.
All of this came to a head with the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources agreeing to sit down with community representatives for negotiations. The outcome of those negotiations was “a precarious but important step in the community’s long struggle to pressure the Quebec and Canadian governments to honour their landmark Trilateral Agreement, says Barriere Lake Solidarity. Both the Quebec government and the forestry company agreed to comply with the Trilateral Agreement’s “measures to harmonize”.
In these measures, it is understood that logging companies who wish to operate on Barriere Lake’s land must not compromise the way that the Algonquins use the land. In other words, “logging is not allowed to happen where the community has hunting cabins, in areas of moose and bear habitat, sacred areas, medicinal sites and many other areas of concern to the community,” adds Barriere Lake Solidarity.
It’s an important step forward to say the least, but the journey is far from over. Barriere Lake Solidarity goes on to say, “Barriere Lake needs its supporters to remain vigilant to ensure Resolute Forest Products respects the ‘measures to harmonize.'”
“Even more importantly, we need to continue building pressure on the Quebec and Canadian governments to finally implement the Trilateral and Bilateral Agreements. The Charest government has been so brazen in its disregard for the law and its contempt for Barriere Lake that it has refused to honour the binding outcomes of negotiations conducted by two former Liberal Cabinet Ministers! In 2006, a negotiator for the Quebec, John Ciaccia, and a negotiator for Barriere Lake, Clifford Lincoln, issued the recommendation that the agreement be implemented,” Barriere Lake Solidarity continues. “Quebec does not want to implement this agreement because it sets precedents in giving Indigenous peoples control over developments on their territories.
It’s safe to say that Canada takes the same moral low ground. Indeed, it would much rather turn First Nations into specialized work farms for mining, logging and other industries. Sufficed to say, Barriere Lake is far from alone in their struggle for permanence.
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