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MONTREAL—A leaked document and email obtained by the Montreal Media Co-op shows major environmental organizations engaging in damage control while speedily attempting to court First Nations' support for the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA). The revelation comes amidst mounting opposition to the agreement from aboriginal organizations, many of which are decrying it as fundamentally flawed. The much-hyped pact between major forestry companies and environmental organizations claimed to suspend logging on 29 million hectares of boreal forest and caribou habitat for three years in exchange for an end to the environmentalists' global boycott campaigns against the industry.
The email—sent at the end of a meeting with some First Nations groups last week in Prince George, British Columbia—was written by Larry Innes, Director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, and Faisal Moola of the David Suzuki Foundation. It describes a forthcoming First Nations “Declaration on the Boreal” and a letter of understanding (LOU) that lays the groundwork for First Nations cooperation with the CBFA.
In the email, Innes and Moola stress, in bold, that they “strongly urge all ENGO organizations to support [the LOU], as it will provide positive evidence of a positive relationship being established with [First Nations] towards realizing the vision and goals of the CBFA.”
Environmental organizations and forestry companies excluded First Nations during negotiations of the CBFA, despite the fact that most of the lands bargained over were First Nations' traditional territories.
The organizer of the Prince George meeting, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, revealed in a press release that David Suzuki and Innes had met with them and apologized. Apologies, however, haven't sufficed for a growing number of First Nations, including leadership from Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, who issued a statement last Wednesday saying the agreement was better left behind.
“The CBFA disrespects our rights and was developed without our consent," said Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbi Aski Nation (NAN), which represents 49 First Nations in Northern Ontario. "The meeting this week in Prince George, BC, is a backdoor approach to coming up with a national First Nations strategy regarding the CBFA as there was no consensus that the meeting was a good idea. If we are going to be discussing our role in the management and protection of the Boreal region, it will be outside any agreements such as the CBFA."
Innes and Moola lament in the email that “as a 'national' meeting it failed to materialize” but they indicated that they are targeting those regions where Indigenous criticism of the agreement is mounting.
“We'll be circling back to Assembly of First Nations to try to get the National Chief to take a more active hand going forward, and continuing our outreach work in MB, ON and QC,” they write. They also indicated that “there are good prospects for a similar outcome [to the Prince George meeting] in Alberta.”
NAN called on the Assembly of First Nations to hold "a national meeting on the future of our forests." NAN was joined in their criticisms the CBFA by the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, which represents two bands in Quebec, and the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents 30 in Manitoba.
In late September, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), which represents Quebec First Nations, passed a resolution to boycott any meetings on the CBFA until the organization has conducted a legal and technical review of the agreement.
Rather than address the public criticisms of the regional aboriginal organizations, Innes and Moola pinned blame for mounting First Nations dissent on an independent policy analyst and anonymous individuals.
The AFNQL resolution, and a few withdrawals from the Prince George conference, they write, “created an ideal opportunity for the 'Scrap the CBFA' campaign being undertaken by Russell Diabo and some of our other 'friends' to drive wedges between [First Nations] in the East and West.”
Diabo is a policy consultant who works for the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, but has no affiliation with the Manitoba and Ontario bands that also criticized the agreement.
Avrum Lazar of the Forest Products Association of Canada, the grouping of 21 corporate signatories to the CBFA, also attended the Prince George meetings and told the Globe & Mail that First Nations support for the CBFA is “being courted.”
He also made it clear that industry representatives had deliberately excluded First Nations from the original CBFA negotiations.
“If there was a way to involve all those chiefs and set up some sort of national framework, we would have done it,” he said.
The letter obtained by the Montreal Media Co-op did not include recipient email addresses.
Martin Lukacs is a member of the Dominion editorial collective and the Montreal Media Co-op. This article was originally published by the Montreal Media Co-op.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.