Cree and Quebec sign agreement to resolve dispute over forestry practices

The Quebec government and James Bay Cree representatives have signed a partnership and co-operation agreement aimed at resolving a forestry dispute about territory that stretches from Lac St. Jean to James Bay.

Cree Nation filed a $13M lawsuit in 2013 over clearcutting in traditional-use areas

Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, left, shakes hands with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard after they signed an agreement on forestry on Monday at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government and James Bay Cree representatives have signed a partnership and co-operation agreement aimed at resolving a forestry dispute about territory that stretches from Lac St. Jean to James Bay.

The agreement between the Quebec government and the Grand Council of the Crees was signed in the National Assembly on Monday by Premier Philippe Couillard and Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come.

"Today, we set another significant milestone in the nation to nation relationship between Quebec and the Crees," said Couillard.

The Cree had accused the province and the forest industry, specifically Resolute Forest Products, of clearcutting on the land in question, in violation of the Baril-Moses agreement signed in 2002.

"This agreement secures the harmonization of forestry operations with Cree hunting, fishing and trapping activities in the Baril-Moses area." said Cree Nation Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come.

The Baril-Moses agreement, signed at the same time as the Paix des Braves, was concluded by Minister Jacques Baril and then-Grand Chief of the Crees Ted Moses. It provided for the application of special rules for the forestry industry.

The Cree say the province violated the provisions of this agreement, allowing the forest industry to exploit traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

In 2013, the Cree Nation filed a $13-million lawsuit against the provincial government and as recently as April 2015 sent a formal notice to Resolute Forest Products asking it to stop its operations in the area. 

In January 2015, Quebec appointed former premier Lucien Bouchard to act as mediator in this matter.

Details of the agreement

The agreement provides for the harmonization of forestry activities by December 2015. It also sets out the creation of a joint working group with representation from Cree and Innu Nations and Quebec to reach a consensus regarding forest management standards in the area.

Additional protective measures will be implemented to promote the recovery of woodland caribou in Quebec.

Members of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi travelled to Quebec City to oppose the agreement. They say they are concerned how it will affect their efforts to create a protected area south of their community in the Broadback River watershed. 

"We felt left out when it came to what we wanted within the agreement," said Waswanipi chief Marcel Happyjack.

"It's been over 30 years now that our hunting territory is affected by forestry. We see the effects on the land and the devastation. The animals are affected by it; the hunters sees the deforestation due to forestry. This is what we don't want."

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come says the agreement signed today will not affect the Broadback River Watershed Conservation plan. 

"There will not be any forestry development in that area, only where it was agreed on in the 2002 Paix des Braves," said Coon Come. 

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