Caribou or 2x4s? The Waswanipi Cree fight for their Boreal Forest

by ferrise on Octobre 7, 2016 - 8:28am

               The article I chose focuses on a hotly debated issue in many parts of Canada, namely natural resource extraction and the impact on Aboriginal land rights. More specifically, this article chronicled the Waswanipi Cree’s fight to protect one of Québec’s last remaining untouched boreal forests, the Broadback Valley Forest, from forestry. The Waswanipi Cree’s territory is located 730 kilometres north of Montreal, and has already felt a heavy presence from the forestry industry, with 90% of their territory already logged or fragmented. The forest is home to several species central to Cree livelihood including the endangered Woodland Caribou, and a major concern regarding development is that wildlife will be driven further away from the Waswanipi territory, to more remote areas that have been less disturbed. This decline of a prominent boreal species has already been noted by members of the community and if the trend continues would bring devastating effects on the Cree way of life and a dependence on hunting. While the Cree community made it clear in the article that they do not oppose development or logging, they are concerned about the extent of logging road creation in their territory and are demanding some sort of protection of their traditional rights. As it currently stands the proposed forestry projects in the area are under review with an independent government agency, who will present recommendations to Québec’s Minister of sustainable development.   

              Unfortunately, this is a situation all too familiar to aboriginal Canadians living in resource rich areas across the country, and solutions that please all parties involved seem impossible. As is the case here, conflict between the stakeholders was somewhat inevitable. Each involved party has different end goals for the region, different world-views and values, different opinions about who should benefit and bear the costs, and the list goes on….The primary conflict outlined in the article seems to be that the Waswanipi Cree place huge cultural importance on the boreal forest, a natural area that would be adversely impacted by the proposed forestry projects. In contrast, the government and forest companies see the area as potential source of financial gain, and to not pursue development in the boreal forest would constitute a preventable economic loss. While this may appear to be just another isolated conflict that needs to be resolved, the occurrence of issues similar to what is happening in the Broadback Valley Forest suggests that there is something rooted far deeper in the Canadian identity. In my opinion what cannot be forgotten, but often is, is that Canada is a “settler society,” and was founded as a source of resources and staples for Europe and other developed regions. In this early pursuit of dominance over the land by settlers, aboriginals found themselves displaced from traditional territories. This notion is still very apparent today as the export of natural resources continues to be fundamental in ensuring Canada’s economic vigor and stability, sometimes at the expense of aboriginal rights. While there is undoubtedly concern over whether an over-reliance on natural resource extraction could have detrimental impacts on the environment and also lead to long-term economic vulnerability, I strongly believe that our country must accept and find solutions to mitigate and manage negative effects along the way. With respect to taking aboriginal land rights into consideration, I think that including aboriginal groups and leaders in natural resource management decisions offers a hopeful path for resolving land disputes that are all too common in Canada right now. It is clear that current measures and policies in place pay inadequate respect to aboriginal rights, and result in the continued assimilation of aboriginal groups and the exploitation of their land. In beginning the reconciliation process by respecting something as central to the aboriginal way of life as the land, trust between the Canadian government and aboriginal groups can hopefully be rebuilt. The conflict in the Broadback Valley Forest is a small part of a much larger issue in the Canada and one that can no longer be ignored. If natural resource extraction is to continue as an economic driver for Canada, aboriginal people must be included in the decision making process.

 

Bernstien, J. (2016, January 26). Waswanipi Cree demand virgin forest, caribou be protected from logging. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/waswanipi-forest-roads-threaten-caribou-1.3418531