Atikamekw say they won't allow forestry work on their land without approval

The Atikamekw First Nation says it will not allow any forestry work on its territory in Quebec unless it has given prior approval.

The Atikamekw First Nation says it will not allow any forestry work on its territory in Quebec unless it has given prior
approval.

The band says Tuesday's announcement is a logical move just two weeks after it declared its sovereignty over 80,000 square kilometres of territory in the heart of the province.

An Atikamekw chief, Christian Awashish, said his people have never given their approval to forestry resources being appropriated on their ancestral land.​

"We have never given our consent or agreed to the massive exploitation of forestry resources that are found on our
territory," Awashish said in a statement.

We have never given our consent or agreed to the massive exploitation of forestry resources that are found on our territory.- Christian Awashish

The group is taking advantage of a re-accreditation period for forestry businesses to make its wishes clear.

Many of the companies that work in the region are currently in the process of getting re-certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

One of the criteria for obtaining and maintaining certification is getting the consent of indigenous nations. Another involves the protection of territory and maintaining or enhancing the benefits gained from the forests.

That criteria has routinely been ignored, Awashish suggested.

"The Atikamekw Opitciwan territory has suffered for decades from the colossal footprint of the forestry industry without an adequate sector of protected land or a conservation plan in place," he said.

Awashish is calling on the suspension of forest council certification for companies that don't respect terms and adequately protect the environment.

Many forestry companies preoccupied by current situation

While certification is not obligatory, many forestry companies like Resolute Forest Products, Kruger and Tembec (TSX:TMB) opt for it. A loss of the certification could mean financial and client losses.

A spokesman for Montreal-based Resolute (TSX:RFP) said they are preoccupied by the current situation. He notes that all territories in Quebec are subject to a strict and rigorous process put in place by the provincial government.

"And it's the government that is responsible for consulting the native groups," said Karl Blackburn, public and government relations manager for Resolute.

The Atikamekw announced on Sept. 8 that elected members of the aboriginal First Nation had adopted a unilateral declaration of sovereignty to assert their right to self-government on the Nitaskinan region.

They invoked a Supreme Court of Canada judgment in June that recognized ancestral rights for First Nations in British Columbia.

Grand Chief Constant Awashish said at the time any companies thinking of pursuing projects in the area would have to do it in co-operation with the Atikamekw.

Three Atikamekw communities in particular lie in the affected zone -- Manawan in the Laurentians; Opitciwan, which is 300 kilometres west of Roberval; and Wemotaci, which is on the shores of the St-Maurice River.

In June, Canada's highest court granted declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.

It was the first time the court has made such a ruling concerning
aboriginal land.

The ruling addressed how aboriginal title is determined and whether provincial laws apply to those lands. The ruling will apply in the case of outstanding land claims.​
 

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