Home > Uncategorized > An Update on Logging Plans. A Report from Grassy Narrows, Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek Territory

An Update on Logging Plans. A Report from Grassy Narrows, Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek Territory

UPDATED, May 2, 2014

A partial version of this report appeared as an article in theTwo Row Times, April 16 2014.

will wynne force clearcuts...

On April 1 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) 10 year Forestry Management Plan (FMP) for the Whiskey Jack Forest came into effect, with over 50 000 hectares – that’s more than 500 square kilometers of forest scheduled for clearcutting.

If you think you have heard of the Whiskey Jack before, it is probably because the Whiskey Jack Forest is one of the names that have been given to an area of land that corresponds with Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation) Traditional Territory, which has been protected against clearcut logging for over a decade by the longest standing blockade in Canada.

Over 50% of Grassy Narrows Traditional Territory has previously been logged.

The Province does not recognize the land as Grassy Narrows’ Territory. While they tacitly recognize Grassy Narrows Traditional Land Use Area (GNTLUA), that is mostly for the purposes of “assigning” traplines, a right claimed by the MNR. They also call it Forestry Management Unit #490, and the FMP makes it clear that they intend to take the trees, which they view as belonging to the Crown.

Recently the MNR rejected a request from now former Grassy Narrows Chief, Simon Fobister for the management contract (also known as the “Sustainable Forestry License”) for the Whiskey Jack Forest. It took less than 48 hours for the Minister of Natural Resources, David Orazietti to reject the offer, an offer that was also condemned by Kenora MP, now Federal Minister of Natural Resources, Greg Rickford.

The quick rejection and condemnation came after months of silence and refusals to publicly address the issue by the Wynne Government and Orazietti Ministry. Even the NDP’s MNR critic, Dave Vanhouf has refused to comment (though other NDP MPPs have raised the issue in Parliament).

Then on March 28, just days before the plan is to come into effect, a statement was released from the MNR in which Orazietti claimed that this year’s Annual Work Schedule (AWS) will not contain any cutblocks within the GNTLUA, however the AWS is still yet to be released by MNR. They claim to have, for tis year, decided to only log Whiskey Jack cutblocks that do not fall within Grassy Narrows’ Territory, though all of the blocks within the GNTLUA would remain on the 10 year plan.

In a call to the Kenora office of the Ministry of Natural Resources, a representative said that one reason for the delay in releasing the AWS is the request for an Individual Environmental Assessment (IEA) made by the Grassy Narrows First Nation Band Council in January. The Ministry of the Environment has yet to formally reply to the request.

The MNR representative did, however, confirm that they could proceed with an AWS that does not include the areas covered by the IEA immediately, which makes the delay somewhat suspicious.

There is reason for speculation that the MNR will use this delay to attempt to build a wedge between Grassy Narrows and other local First Nations, as well as within the community, in order to pressure Grassy Narrows to drop their IEA request, a tactic that the MNR has used in the past.

Regardless of whether clearcutting is scheduled within the GNTLUA for this year or next, the 10 year plan, as well as the MNR’s own statements (or in some cases, lack thereof) has made the Government’s intent clear.

This reality, and the remaining uncertainties in the ongoing stand against logging, coming from the provincial government, come as even more severe a slight since when she was Minister of Aboriginal Resources, Wynne actually visited Grassy Narrows and promised to help the community find resolution to the ongoing logging conflict and the ongoing problems caused by the mercury poisoning of the English River System, from which new generations of children continue to be affected.

In the 1960’s logging operations dumped an estimated ten metric tonnes of industrial mercury into the waters at the Dryden Paper Mill, resulting in the long term poisoning of the English and Wabigoon River Systems, affecting Grassy Narrows as well as other First Nations.

In an April 2 press release, former Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister said, “the Wynne government is still hanging the threat of a decade of clearcuts over our heads year after year causing great distress for our troubled community. When will Wynne finally promise to respect our voice and commit never to force logging on our community against our will?”

That same day there was an election in Grassy Narrows and a new Chief, Roger Fobister was elected. All indications are that the new Chief Fobister will continue to uphold and support Grassy Narrows’ long stand against logging and for control of their Territory.

In addition to the IEA request, another likely factor in the province’s decision not to log in the GNTLUA this year is the recent commitment by major regional lumber company EACOM to avoid conflict wood from Grassy Narrows. EACOM’s commitment leaves no large operating mills in the region willing to accept conflict softwood from Grassy Narrows Territory after years of boycotts and divestment actions.

Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief and Council (old and new), as well as grassroots organizers in the community have firmly rejected the logging plan, and one reason why the MNR may be slow to commit to a timeline for specific cutblocks within the GNTLUA might be related to the pledges of resistance coming from all corners of the community.

Taina Da Silva, a Youth organizer in the community, and daughter of long-time organizer and grassroots leader Judy Da Silva, said in a recently released statement from the Grassy Narrows Youth Group, “If the logging begins in our territory, I am certain there will already be planned strategies on our part to bring it to a complete halt… It’s important to stop the new logging plan because our traditional way of life depends on the health of the environment.”

Another of the newly formed Youth Group’s core organizers is Edmond Jack, who is also the eldest child of another one Grassy Narrows’ most prominent grassroots voices and former “Youth Leader”, Chrissy Swain. In the March 1 statement, Jack says, “Our organizing is connected through bloodline relations and teachings. Our mothers fought so we could have this land, so we will continue to fight for it… Not only does the plan threaten my family trapline, but it also threatens the traditional knowledge of future generations who cannot yet speak for themselves.”

While the logging plan is the most imminent threat, and one that directly challenges the 12 year old blockade, sadly and shockingly, it is far from being the only dire threat to the long term future of the land and culture in Grassy Narrows Territory.

In the 1950’s, Caribou Falls was dammed for a massive Hydro Project to power logging and mining operations in the region. The damming flooded important parts of the Territories of Grassy Narrows and other local First Nations. This dam was just one of several that have been imposed on the waters of this region over the last 90 years. Currently, the MNR is set to put in yet another major hydro dam.

The new dam planned for Big Falls is in the Traditional Territory of the Namekosipiiw Anishnabe of Lac Seul First Nation, and is a crucial site on their historic migratory canoe route which is still used for trapping (and other cultural and traditional economic) activities.

Big Falls is located at the headwaters of the English River System, the same one still poisoned with mercury.

The new hydro dam at Big Falls is being built, in part, to power the expansion of Gold mining around Red Lake, west of Big Falls and North of Grassy Narrows. Red Lake is already home to the largest and most profitable gold mine in the country, owned by Goldcorp, a Canadian mining giant that has one of the world’s worst records for corporate human rights abuses.

While the Ring of Fire mining projects somewhat stall several hundred kilometers to the east, Red Lake is booming. The Financial Post has called it “the Fort McMurray of Ontario.”

Gold mining is among the most environmentally destructive resource extraction processes on the planet, and poses as grievous and long term a threat to the waters of Grassy Narrows as has been wrought from the mercury poisoning.

The new dam at Big Falls is expected to allow for a massive increase of mining capacity over the next thirty years and also the attendant infrastructural and municipal development in and around Red Lake, which will, over the long term, decimate what may be left of the traplines, even if logging operations are stopped.

And while mining is controlled by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), not the MNR, it is clear that the Provincial Government under Kathleen Wynne, just like every other government before hers, is firm in their belief that the land is theirs for taking. That idea is unlikely to be an issue in the upcoming provincial election, unfortunately.

One of the other industrial projects that would be powered by a new dam at Big Falls is a new Kenora pumping station for Transcanada’s Energy East Pipeline, which intends to pump Alberta tarsands bitumen westward across the country.

However, campaigns to Save Big Falls and the formation of a new Grassy Narrows Youth Group that “see protecting the land and cultural resurgence as a single inseparable process,” speak from a strong vision of a different future for the forests of this region and for the futures of Anishnabe Peoples who have lived here, in some cases, “since time immemorial.”

The seemingly ongoing fight against the FMP and the longer term struggle to protect the land are at a crucial moment. With the FMP, the Government is seriously challenging the Blockade for the first time in a decade, with the knowledge that they have major development plans for the long term future of this region.

There are also major “rare earth” mining projects scheduled to begin in the west of the territory in the next few years, and more gold mining expansion to the south.

But there are Anishnabe people who are saying no. They are also asking for support.

To conclude the Grassy Narrows Youth Group Statement, Taina Da Silva says the following: “The most important thing supporters can do is to be ready, and commit to both physical and political support should the Province begin logging operations,” she says.

On May 15, the Grassy Narrows “Trappers’ Case” will be argued before the Supreme Court of Canada, though a decision likely won’t come for several months. The case will have major impacts on the interpretation of Treaty Rights within Treaty 3 Territory and beyond.

This is still but a partial assessment of threats to the lands of Grassy Narrows’ Territory. There are other on going concerns including the encroachment of cottage properties onto traplines, granite mines that may be disturbing rock and soil with naturally high uranium levels and impacting drinking waters, increased usage of traplines by non indigenous hunters and recreationalists, and more.

The most concise place to get information and updates on developments at Grassy Narrows, where there is also information on how to support land protection efforts, is at http://freegrassy.net. According to the website, direct political pressure on the Provincial Government is important. The Grassy Narrows Youth Group is also currently fundraising and can be reached at GrassyNarrows.YouthGroup@gmail.com.






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