An Atikameksheng Anishnawbek band member who says burial grounds and his family’s traditional hunting territory are being jeopardized by logging in the Benny Forest west of Sudbury isn’t giving up his effort to stop cutting and aerial spraying in the area.
Clyde McNichol and his supporters say the cutting block closest to his people’s graves and his company, Camp Eagle Nest, has been at least temporarily saved from logging by Eacom Timber Corporation, following archaeological, environmental and traditional knowledge studies to assess the request by McNichol, along with his wife Barbara Ronson-McNichol, Chief Steve Miller and Geneva Lake residents to protect the forest.
But McNichol also wants to protect the area in a 20-mile radius, including large blocks on the west side of the Spanish River, where the Eacom and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry plan to forge ahead with cutting and spraying – something that should not be allowed, McNichol said, based on the knowledge that his people have many graves throughout the area, as well as on the size of his family’s original hunting territory and 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty between the Crown and First Nations people and covering a large portion of Northeastern Ontario.
“They still want to go in and cut, but I’m not going to allow them,” McNichol said. “They’re the ones that have made the law and they’re the ones that are breaking it. I’m just there to defend what I’m supposed to be defending in our culture, and that’s the land, the land I need to hunt and to survive. I’m not closing it off to anybody; it’s open to everybody, but I want to make sure that forest is protected, the wildlife and everything.
“In our culture and on the reserve, we each have an individual right to have our own hunting area in a 20-mile radius from each other. That’s where I am going with this. They have already cut lots of wood in my area and sprayed lots and I’m trying to preserve what I’ve got left, because it is the oldest forest we’ve got in this area. I’m looking at 400- to 500-year-old trees, life that’s back in there that has been untouched, rare plants, rare animals, we have it all back there. They have all that information and I’m hoping that will be good enough, because the MNR made laws saying they would protect all that. But they still want to go in there and cut.”
McNichol said he doesn’t want to set up a blockade, though he isn’t ruling out such action. He hopes for more meetings with the MNR, chief, band council and other stakeholders and hopes to resolve the matter that way.
“I don’t want to take a stand like that myself; started off talking with the people and that’s what I’m looking at, still talking,” McNichol said.
McNichol runs Camp Eagle Nest, which introduces youth to bushcraft skills and maintains a base camp in Benny. The company launched an arts co-operative at the Lockerby Legion on Oct. 17 that aims to attract artists to the area and help lead the way in taking care of the land more respectfully, as a means of supporting the summer youth camping program.
Ronson-McNichol held a press conference near the Eacom sawmill in Nairn Centre on Friday to draw attention to their efforts.
“We’re focusing mainly on the lack of treaty work that was supposed to be done, the surveying of the clan territories,” Ronson-McNichol said. “We’re also talking about the arts co-op, which is starting to attract people to the area of Clyde McNichol’s planned territory. We’re also talking about the rejection of appeals by Chief Miller, Clyde and others to hold off on the spraying pending the studies that were being done.”
The company that manages the forest insists the chemicals they use target plants that compete with planted pine trees and don’t poison water or enter the food chain, opponents of the spraying remain concerned about negative effects on other plants and animals.
Even if the spraying kills only competing tree species, they say, that still has a negative effect on the environment.
Animals such as moose and deer cannot live in areas where the forest has been clearcut and single- or double-species replanting has taken place, Ronson-McNichol said, and those large animals will leave the area indefinitely, further disrupting the ecosystem.
“We want people to be aware of the totally different world view of the native people, who were always taught not to take more than what they needed, the minimum amount, and really looked at the plant and animal life as family, different branches of their own family with spirit and deliberately protected it,” Ronson-McNichol said. “There are stereotypes that need to be overturned. First Nations didn’t build up because they weren’t as advanced. It was a different mentality. They didn’t have the ability to destroy as much as fast as the European culture. It was a different choice, a way of life. For historical and ethical reasons, we’re trying to protect what should have been protected in the first place.”