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About the traditional Algonquins of Barriere Lake
About SOS Poigan
Questions and Answers

About the traditional Algonquins of Barriere Lake
(that area bascically represents the South half of La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve and includes Poigan)

Quoted from the « About Us » section of the website Mamwi :
“ About Us and Our Nation
We do not live on a Indian reservations, but on the land of our traditional territory, which Quebec calls the “La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve”. It is supposedly dedicated to the preservation of wildlife, but based on the current laws, the habitat is not protected. This allows clear-cutting to occur. In certain areas, only 20% of the old-growth forest remains. This is unceded territory and we have no treaties with Canada, Britain or France. Our people have lived on this land since time immemorial. There is a 59-acre Indian Act reserve in a small part of our territory where some of our citizens live. They are status “Indians”. We are not status Indians and we are self-sufficient. 
In the last few years, we have begun a process of documenting the traditional governance of our Nation for the first time. We consulted with Elders throughout Algonquin territory in order to accurately authenticate our governance system. We took that information and compiled it. We then worked with a constitutional lawyer who assisted us in drafting a Constitution that reflects our traditional form of government. We used the process described in our constitution to select our current Circle of Elders. To chart a course for the future of our Nation, we engaged in comprehensive consultation with our citizens as to what they would like to see in our Nation. That consultation forms the basis of our plan for the future. 
A Little of the Recent History
In 1991, Canada began treaty negotiations with nine of our traditional Chiefs. That process was
set aside in favor of pursuing an economic agreement to gain access to our resources, specifically to lumber. A tri-lateral agreement with a term of three years was entered into by Canada, Quebec, and some of our Chiefs 1991. There were specific protocols which were to be followed by logging companies. These protocols were not followed. 
Large amounts of money went to into the hands of a few people. Corruption ensued. A RCMP
investigation into fraud was commenced (Case number 98A1810). In 1996, Canada withdrew from the agreement and the RCMP were ordered to shelve the investigation. A new bi-lateral agreement between the same few Algonquin and Quebec was entered into. The terms of the agreement were not followed and it has lapsed. In July of this year, Judge O’Neil began an audit of the situation. This is not complete. 
During this 20-year period, some 75% of our territory, which was all old-growth forest, has been clear cut. One Elder reports that in his territory, prior to the clear cutting 20 years ago, there were 150 species of trees. Now there are four. The traditional people who live on the land have steadily opposed the clear-cutting. This opposition has taken many forms and has resulted in, among other things, arrests. 
The Current Situation
Earlier this summer, some of our citizens observed logging trucks entering our territory. We had
no warning about this activity. Our Council of Elders determined that this had to be stopped.
Accordingly, we set up a camp and blockaded the logging road. Representatives of the logging company, Resolute Forest Products, state they have a written agreement from four members of the Rapid Lake First Nation. There is no agreement from anybody living on the land. There is no framework such as the bi-lateral or trilateral agreement for this agreement. That not withstanding, when asked, Resolute’s representative failed to produce the agreement. Resolute obtained an injunction against our people, allowing the logging to continue until the case comes back to court on September 25th, 2012. Two of our Elders were arrested, one of them is a Grandmother.
The elders have been detained for eight days. Since then, the court renewed many times the injunction granted to Resolute. That injuction is now valid until the next step of the case in court, which won't happen before next spring. More than half of Poigan will be logged by then, if nothing is done.

About SOS Poigan

We are a regroupment of citizens, mainly from Montréal area, formed in support of traditional Algonquins (Anishinabes) whose life and subsistence depend on the forest territory named Poigan, which is being severely logged right now.

Poigan is located in Barriere Lake area, in La Vérendrye Wildlife Réserve.

The word "Poigan" literally means "peace pipe".

Questions and Answers

Who's cutting trees at Poigan?
Ten companies have permits for logging operations there. The main ones are Resolute Forest
Products (formerly Abitibi-Bowater) and Louisiana Pacific, two American companies.

Since when?

 There are logging operations since July 2012 at Poigan specifically, but there has been logging in the Wildlife Reserve for around 25 years.

Had that forest already been cut in the past?

 No, according to Jacob Wawatie and the Algonquin (Anishinabe) families who have been using the territory in a traditional way for generations.

Are those cuts actual clear-cutting?

We believe so and we have an expert to back it up. The government claims the opposite. So-called new methods often lead to the same results, but some thin strips of trees are spared, mainly for aesthetic purposes.

Who is affected negatively by the logging?

 Mainly Algonquin families who live in the Wildlife Reserve or get some of their subsistence from it. These families are called Wawatie, Ratt, Keyes, Whiteduck, Nottaway and others. In total, we estimate that 300 people live on the traditional territory of Barriere Lake – the South half of La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, which includes Poigan – and that around 700 get some of their subsistence from it.

How much are they affected?
The cumulative impact of logging over twenty years has been disastrous. Many families have taken refuge at Poigan which is one of the last virgin territories of the area. The forest is the drugstore, the pantry and the traditional school of Algonquins. Trees can take up to 70 years to grow back. Monoculture plantations don't allow the forest to regenerate itself, and fauna disappears as the same time as the trees.

For the Algonquins of Poigan, what does the loss of the forest means?

They don't hesitate to talk in terms of cultural genocide to qualify the logging. They lose their ceremonial sites, the possibility to transmit their traditional knowledge to their kids, the plants that heal, and overall their relation with nature which is the foundation of their identity and spirituality. They will be uprooted and will be forced to relocate themselves. Their dependency toward the State will get worse. They will lose the healthy food they find in the forest. Their despair and health problems will increase.

Map of cut blocks at Poigan and nearby
 Poigan is the sector circled in the North-West (labelled "Jacob Wawatie")
Cut blocks are outlined in yellow
What is the size of Poigan, and what proportion of its forest is set to be cut?
Approximately 100 square kilometers. 60% of that territory (around 700 hectares) will be cut come March 2013. See the map to the left.

Is that logging illegal?
No, but the law itself infringe on ancestral rights who are theoretically guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution, but have to be proved in a long and costly legal process, which doesn't implies stopping the cuts meanwhile.

How do logging companies obtain the right to cut wood?
The Ministry of Natural Resources of Québec grants them a permit create jobs in the area. The government needs to consult the band council and families, but these consultations only lead to minor accommodations that don't protect against the impact of logging on the fauna and traditional way of life. It is impossible to say no to logging as things are now.

What is the position of the band council?
The band council is also opposed to the ongoing logging, although on a different basis. In court, the band council asked that certain measures be respected if logging was to continue. That position was not considered in the final judgment. Rather, the court agreed fully with Resolute.

On what basis did the court agree with Resolute?
The judgment favors jobs in the forestry industry without taking into consideration the traditional way of life at stake nor the strong appearance of ancestral right.

What about jobs who depend on the logging happening at Poigan?
Their number varies between 125 and 300 according to different estimations. It must be understood that a healthy forest offers almost infinite possibilities for sustainable economic activity, that Algonquins of Poigan wish to develop: ecotourism, photo safaris, teaching of the traditional way of life, harvesting of non-timber forest products (such as mushrooms and wintergreen)... In comparison, the forestry industry creates very few jobs but tremendous amounts of damage.

Are there threatened or vulnerable species living there?
A simple overlapping, on a map, of the natural range of species found on the list of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife (MNRW) with the area covered with the Wildlife Reserve (not necessarily Poigan specifically) shows the presence of vulnerable animal species: the wood turtle, the peregrine falcon and the bald headed eagle.

Do the logging companies involved at Poigan have a good record of acting responsibly?
Resolute has many FSC certified forests, but that of Poigan is not one of them. Resolute's methods at Poigan seem questionable ecologically. Recently, Greenpeace revealed scandalous logging activity of that company in critical caribou habitat. The FSC certification itself, supposed to warrant good practices, has been criticized in many case as being ineffective and being rather a practical tool of greenwashing.

Are there other threats looming over Poigan?
Yes, the eventual projects of the mining industry.

What can be done?
A clear message must be sent to the Ministry of Natural Resources that the logging at Poigan must stop immediately, at least until the legal process to prove the ancestral right of Algonquins is complete. Steps have been taken for talks with minister Martine Ouellet to happen, but it will only yield satisfying results if we have a strong support from the public. Our petition and our actions are ways to increase and show that support.

  • Mamwi
    Ce site (en anglais) donne une voix aux Algonquins traditionnels de la région du Lac Barrière. Ce sont ces Algonquins que nous soutenons face aux coupes outrageuses perpétrées en ce moment même sur leur territoire.

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