BARRIER LAKE – A group of around 30 Barrier Lake Algonquin men, women and children full time are trying to stop what they call “illegal logging” within their territory located on Highway 117, three hours north of Ottawa.
Protests against the clear cutting without proper consultation began in early July when Norman Matchewan first noticed logging equipment on the road near Barrier Lake. A small encampment was erected the next day.
“We asked the company (Resolute Forestry Products) foreman to stop the operation and they said they have a permit,” says Matchewan. “There was no consultation with any of our traditional harvesters. For us, when we say ‘harvester’, we mean someone who collects medicines or people who hunt, trap and fish around that area.”
The company claims it received the consent of the Elected Band Council and local Aboriginal leaders but Charles Ratt says that the consent of the Wawatie family, which lives off the land being cut, was never received. Gabriel Wawatie has been participating in the protest and has sent letters to both the Quebec government and Resolute disputing their claims that he signed a consent form (something the company has never provided).
“We never gave consent for this cutting, we have been there [on the logging road] ever since [the cutting began]. We are there to make sure that these workers don’t work,” said Norman Matchewan, an ABL spokesperson who spoke to the crowd via a cell-phone hooked up to speakers. None of the Algonquin protesters made the trip to Montreal since they are still needed at the protest camp.
The permit will allow loggers to clear 95% of the trees across a large swath of forest traditional people depend upon for trap lines, food and way of life.
“At one point there were about 60 S.Q. in riot gear and with paddy wagons and busses of police on standby,” reports Matchewan. “They remained for about three days to make sure the company was able to set up their work camps and start cutting.”
In mid-July they took more affirmative action and with their women, children and elders went out to site walking along the road as a group. Work stopped temporarily and voluntarily, but started up soon thereafter.
A local elder spoke of what was dying right in front of them. “Right now, we are struggling to survive and to keep our identity,” the elder said. “They are not only destroying the forest, they are destroying our way of life. It is so sad to see this happening. We’re not going to see this beauty anymore.”
Tuesday morning loggers were stopped by Charlie and Tina Ratt along with a couple of dozen others and were asked to show their permit for logging on their traditional land. What was shown them was a two-page document, which the protesters would not accept on two counts. The first was that, according to them, they need a five-year plan to be valid and the documents shown did not reflect that.
“This morning they flashed some papers when we asked to sit down and read them over, they said no,” said Ratt. “They said they have no time and have to go to work.”
Secondly, even if it were a “valid” permit according to the Indian Act, those on the line reject it on the grounds that there was no consultation with the people at large before the permit was signed by the Indian Act Elected Band Council.
Since the loggers were backed up by the S.Q., Quebec’s provincial police, the 20 or so protesters had no resort but allowing them through the check-point.
“Our people were in a situation where we will be arrested if we block them today,” Ratt said.
But they are still hoping for support to come once their protest is better publicized and more people find out about it.
“We need help,” said one blog coming from the protest site. “Grandmothers are supporting us from our nation and they are crying.”
Protests have also been happening in Toronto at the Resolute head office and in Montreal in support of the Algonquins and bemoaning the loss of pristine forests and pollution of fresh water streams. Some 200 people marched through the streets of Montreal recently in support of the Algonquin community north of the city.