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WINNIPEG—In December 2011, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) released its “Long Term Management Direction,” a ten-year “development plan” for the Whiskey Jack Forest. Located in Treaty #3 territory of northwestern Ontario, this forest is critical to the economic and cultural survival of Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, also known as Grassy Narrows First Nation.
“This document was developed without our participation or consent and is entirely outside the good faith negotiations we have undertaken with MNR since the 2008 Process Agreement,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister in a release. “It sets the stage for more clearcutting throughout our traditional lands, contrary to our Treaty and inherent rights. And we have not given our consent.”
The 2008 Process Agreement was created to guide forest management discussions between MNR and Grassy Narrows after the previous license-holder, Abitibi-Bowater, withdrew in 2008 due to community resistance and public pressure.
Grassy Narrows has struggled for decades with the destruction of the Whiskey Jack Forest from logging, while facing the legacy of residential schools and mercury poisoning in the English-Wabigoon river system.
In 2002, Grassy Narrows’ residents established a blockade of a logging road into the Whiskey Jack Forest. Initiated after years of protest and petitions, the blockade became the longest standing in North American history and an inspiring site of learning, empowerment, and self-determination.
In the Rainforest Action Network’s report, American Dream, Native Nightmare, Roberta Keesick, a blockader, trapper and grandmother, explained the necessity of the blockade: "The destruction of the forest is an attack on our people…The land is the basis of who we are. Our culture is a land-based culture, and the destruction of the land is the destruction of our culture; we know that…they want us out of the way so they can take the resources. We can't allow them to carry on with this cultural genocide."
Before the blockade began, a group of trappers—Andrew Keewatin, Joe Bill Fobister, and the late Willie Keewatin—sought a judicial review against the paper giant, Abitibi-Bowater, and MNR. They argued that their treaty rights to hunt and trap were being infringed by decreased animal habitat and population. Eleven years after the trappers first presented their case, JB Fobister summarizes the 2011 court ruling: “[The Province] could not interfere with [their] right to hunt and trap.”
Abitibi-Consolidated Inc., MNR, and the Attorney General of Canada have since appealed this ruling. Pending the outcome, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently ordered that MNR not authorize the harvesting of wood in the Whiskey Jack Forest north of English River without the consent of Grassy Narrows.
Fobister illustrates the conflict between the interests of industry, the provincial government, and Grassy Narrows: “We are in the way of what they call development. What they call development, we call destruction,” he said. “Whatever happens on the land,” he added, "Grassy should get all the benefits.”
In July 2011, KBM Forestry Consultants Inc. released an audit they conducted of forestry management in the 964,000 hectare Whiskey Jack. Validating concerns of forest mismanagement, the report produced 21 recommendations based on “observations of material non-conformances” to a law and policy as well as ineffective planning and execution.
Some forest product manufacturers, such as Boise Inc. and Domtar, have publicly agreed not to harvest or purchase wood from Grassy Narrows' territory until the MNR obtains community consent. In 2009, Calvert Investments removed Weyerhaeuser from its social index of sustainable and responsible companies due to Weyerhaeuser’s failure to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.
With only 30 per cent of the forest remaining intact, the Weyerhaeuser mill in Kenora, ON, continues to create a demand for wood harvested from the Whiskey Jack; since 2002, the forest has supplied at least 40 per cent of the mill’s wood, accounting for 42 per cent of the total timber harvest from the forest. The mill produces Trustjoist Timberstrand product, an engineered lumber used for home building.
In 2010, Weyerhaeuser pressured the MNR to approve “contingency” logging areas in the Whiskey Jack Forest without the consent of Grassy Narrows. Chief Simon Fobister issued an open letter to logging companies, retailers, contractors, and investors at the time, calling “for the boycott and divestment of Weyerhaeuser Corporation due to their violation of our human rights as Indigenous Peoples.” With approximately 70 per cent of the mill's product being sold in the United States, a successful boycott would require increased support.
Since the beginning of the blockade, local organizations, such as Winnipeg Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement (WIPSM, formerly Friends of Grassy Narrows) and Boreal Forest Network, have stood in support of the blockaders to stop logging in their territory. Together with other allies, they are petitioning Weyerhaeuser and approaching home builders and retailers for a boycott “until they cease all logging and sourcing in the contested traditional territories of Grassy Narrows First Nation.”
“A 'no' from Grassy means, no, stay off their traditional territory—no logging and no resource extraction," said Thor Aikenhead, member of WIPSM.
Damage to the community by corporations and the provincial and federal governments over the decades has taken a great toll, but the determination of Grassy Narrows and its allies could force this corporate giant out. “Grassy's demands must be respected," he adds.
News items and suggestions for supporting Grassy Narrows can be found at freegrassy.org. To sign the petition for Weyerhaeuser to stop sourcing wood from Grassy Narrows First Nation territory, visit: borealforestnetwork.com.
Chuck Wright was a Christian Peacemaker Team delegate to Grassy Narrows in the fall of 2011. He lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he teaches literacy and studies radical adult education. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.