A forestry agreement signed Monday halts a $180-million Cree lawsuit against the Quebec government. But one group was missing from the negotiation table — the Innu First Nation.
While the agreement between the Quebec government and the Grand Council of the Crees calls for co-management of forestry cutting and protection of woodland caribou in northern Quebec, it may set off a new legal battle.
Gilbert Dominique, chief of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan Innu First Nation, said in a telephone interview from Mashteuiatsh Monday that the Cree-Quebec agreement is “unacceptable” because the land at the centre of the dispute is Innu, not Cree.
Dominique said 21 Innu families live in the 7,245-square-kilometre zone where the Crees say they have 14 traplines.
“It represents one-tenth of our territory,” Dominique said, adding that he has asked his legal advisers to look into the possibility of suing the province.
“There is a territorial impact,” he said. “We need to be consulted.”
Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come told reporters in Quebec City, after the signing ceremony, that the Cree dispute with Quebec “was never about territorial claims,” but about forestry management.
Both the Crees and Innu have claims in the area covered by the 2002 Baril-Moses letter.
Negotiated by then-Quebec minister Gilles Baril and Cree grand chief Ted Moses, the letter gave the Crees a say over forestry management in the territory.
The Innu objected at the time the Baril-Moses lands are outside the Crees’ James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement territory.
“I respect the decision of the Innu not to participate, but the door is open,” Coon Come said.
Premier Philippe Couillard said participation by the Innu, who live in Couillard’s Roberval riding, is of “capital importance.”
Couillard welcomed Coon Come to the Quebec National Assembly as “a man of peace, a man of compromise, a man of vision.”
“This agreement is undeniable proof that openness, dialogue and respect are complete values which enhance the nation-to-nation relationship that Quebec and the Cree nation have maintained for almost 50 years,” Couillard said.
“May our friendship guide us along this path for many years to come.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley said the points of disagreement were with the Cree, not the Innu, but expressed hope the Innu would reach a framework agreement with Quebec similar to the 1975 James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement.
Dominique said he shares that goal and the disagreement over Cree claims would not derail the process leading to a Quebec-Innu agreement by the end of this year.
Former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard acted as a mediator between the two sides and was paid $500,000 to settle the dispute.
Premier Couillard said the payment was justified because Bouchard is a seasoned negotiator with roots in the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean area, where the contested forest areas are located.
A Quebec source said the payment to Bouchard should be put in the perspective of a $180-million legal action the Crees took against the government, alleging it did not respect the 2002 Baril-Moses letter to protect Cree traplines in a 7,245-square-kilometre zone.
The Monday agreement:
- Halts a $180-million Cree lawsuit against the Quebec government.
- Establishes more than 9,000 square kilometres in new protected areas where no forestry activity is allowed, to safeguard the woodland caribou.
- Creates a task force of the Crees, Quebec government and the Innu First Nation to work out forestry co-management practices by Dec. 1 in the 7,245-square-kilometre Baril-Moses forest.
- The Crees undertake to inform the Forestry Stewardship Council that the dispute, which led to the suspension of FSC certification for Resolute Forest Products Inc. paper sourced in the area, has been settled.
Coon Come had praise for Bouchard’s “rare blend of tenacity and diplomacy” in reaching what Coon Come called “a new phase in a nation-to-nation partnership.”
Under the new agreement, forestry operations in the area of the Cree traplines will respect limited, mosaic cutting, rather than the clear-cutting that began in 2010, triggering the lawsuit.
A new 9,134.81-square-kilometre protected zone, where no forestry activity is allowed, will be created near the Broadback River in undisputed Cree territory as a woodland caribou habitat.
The Bonn-based Forest Stewardship Council has suspended Resolute Forest Products Inc.’s FSC certification in a 32,000-square-kilometre area that includes the Baril-Moses area.
The FSC ruled Resolute was not respecting “indigenous peoples’ rights” and that its cutting practices had an environmental impact on the endangered woodland caribou and old-growth forests.
Seth Kursman, spokesperson for Resolute Forest Products, said the absence of the Innu from the agreement Monday “could be problematic.”
“I don’t know how that will impact,” Kursman said.
Forestry Minister Laurent Lessard said the dispute with the Crees began in 2010 when Quebec changed the forest-cutting rules in the Baril-Moses zone.
“Quebec is accepting its responsibility,” the minister said. “That is where the differences began.”
Resolute lost its certification when the Forestry Stewardship Council acted on the Cree complaint.
“It has been solved,” Lessard said, expressing confidence the new agreement will allow Resolute to regain its FSC certification, considered essential by major paper buyers, as a guarantee of environmentally-sound practices.
Canopy, an environmentalist organization, speaking for “large global forest product customers,” welcomed creation of the new protected area for the caribou, but said the designated area should be expanded further.
Abel Bosum, the chief Cree negotiator, said the Crees are happy with the agreement because it reinstates the Baril-Moses agreement.
But Bosum admitted there is no unanimity among the Crees, with Waswanapi, a community near the new protected area, objecting it does not go far enough.
Bosum, a seasoned Cree negotiator, will now try to convince the Waswanapi Cree this is a good agreement.
“We would never get that through a bureaucratic process or the Plan Nord,” he said.