Chief's Message 

Chief Marcel Happyjack – Statement on COMEX public hearing, Waswanipi, January 19, 2016


[Intro words in Cree]

On behalf of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi, I’m proud to welcome the members of the COMEX committee, I want to acknowledge Waswanipi‘s own Mister Romeo Saganash member of Parliament, representatives of Matériaux Blanchet and all of our guests today, to our traditional territory of Waswanipi Eenou Istchee.

The Cree people of Waswanipi have occupied, governed and protected the land in Waswanipi Eenou Istchee since time immemorial.

For generations, our way of life has been passed down and celebrated by the practice of traditional activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing and various ceremonies; and applying the teachings of our responsibility as caretakers of the land.

Today, although we live in a modern community, our Cree way of life still connects us very strongly to the land, and we continue to pass on the values that teach us to take only what we need from the land and ensure the continued existence of our forests, rivers and wildlife.

In past decades, there has been growing demand for resource extraction on our territory, resulting in major disturbances to the environment and wildlife and the Cree Way of Life.

The Waswanipi Traditional Territory is over 37,000 km2 including those of Senneterre Cree Trap-lines. At this time, 90% of our ancestral land has been harvested or fragmented by forestry, meaning that out of the 62 trap-lines originally allocated to the Cree families of Waswanipi, ONLY THREE remain untouched by forestry operations.

This last 10% of intact boreal forest on our territory not only represents the last of our ancestral land as the Cree people of Waswanipi, but it is a vital area for old-growth trees, which have become increasingly rare in Quebec. The forest in the broadback river valley plays a key role in the fight against climate change and represents one of the last refuges for endangered species.

With the worldwide issue of global warming, and the state of the endangered Woodland Caribou across Canada, we cannot ignore the detrimental effects of further development in the Broadback river valley forest.

The Canadian Government has assured the world that it will do what it can on climate change for future generations, as stated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It has been recognized under the new Paris agreement on Climate Change that Forests are amongst the best tool to tackle climate change. Our last intact boreal forest being one of the biggest terrestrial carbon storehouse in the World, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of maintaining and protecting those huge amounts of carbon. The forest in Waswanipi’s protected area is literally a shield against climate change, it needs to be protected. All of it.

In light of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) third annual review of government action to conserve Canada’s Boreal Woodland Caribou released in December, we must recognize that building new forest roads is at odds with conservation efforts. I must express our concerns on the conservation of the woodland caribou for we have reduced our traditional harvesting of the caribou to further protect it.

The CPAWS report states that the biggest threat to the caribous’ survival is habitat fragmentation and stresses the urgent need to act and take part in national efforts to protect this endangered species. To quote from the report: “the pace of conservation effort is too slow to ensure protection and recovery of caribou populations in Quebec, given continuing industrial pressures.”

So, in this national crisis to help restore the Woodland Caribou population and the international fight against climate change, it would be irresponsible for Quebec, the forestry industry, and we as Cree people to open up the LAST 10% of intact Boreal forest on Waswanipi’s territory to road construction and forestry, knowing its detrimental effects on the environment.

As we know—and this was highlighted and discussed at COP21 in Paris—the old-growth trees, bogs and soils in this forest’s intact landscape absorb tonnes of greenhouse gases, which helps mitigate climate change.

In contrast, forestry roads would cause soil disturbances that would release stored carbon and thus increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Protecting the forest would have far greater benefits than would logging.

As Leonardo Dicaprio recently said in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes and I quote: “It is time we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people out there to exploit them; it is time we heard your voices and protected this planet for future generations.”

A recent report from the Scientific Committee on the Northern Limit of the Commercial Forest has shown that the forest density in the northern section of our ancestral land is so low that it is questionable if it is even economically viable to go harvest those last intact stands.

With densities below or around 40%, the forest impacted by those roads and the following wave of logging is at the very limit of what the industry can afford in terms of low-density forestry. One could question how short these operation will be, will a large body of literature shows how the impacts of those roads will be felt for many generations to come.

What we denounce is not logging per say, but the roads and the cutting planned for our last intact forest, which that are currently without protection. Even as we speak the proponents of the proposed access roads have their equipment in place as they await the approval.

Speaking of protection, I know you are going to bring up the Agreement signed last July between the Grand Council of the Crees and the Quebec government to resolve the dispute over the implementation of the 2002 Baril-Moses Agreement.

You might say that this agreement recognizes a protected area of the Broadback forest.

Many of our members and outside supporters cheered when they heard the news about the protected area in this agreement. They were surprised to see a delegation from Waswanipi demonstrating in front of the National Assembly during the signing ceremony. Some say that Waswanipi is a dissident community, never satisfied with what we get.

Well, let me tell you frankly: we are not oppose to the Agreement and we are not dissidents. But WE ARE UNHAPPY with the protected area in this agreement because it is far from enough and, well… doesn’t really protect what should really be protected. It ignores the vast majority of Waswanipi's proposed protected area and opens the door to new logging and road-building, thus threatening the unique ecological and cultural character of Waswanipi land… WITHOUT OUR CONSENT.

Not only does it open the roads for forestry, but to mining activities and opens access to non natives who poach on our lands, who also build illegal cabins on these lands, tallyman have witnessed hunters killing moose using helicopters and planes. When we express our concerns we are told that there is lack of resources by the government agencies to deal with these issues.

After the agreement, we were told that this protected initiative was only a first step. So, we agreed to be part of a task force with the Cree Nation government and the Quebec government. Discussions are still ongoing, with the same objective, which is the full protection of the last intact forest of the Broadback area and recognition of our protected area proposal, Mishigamish

Again, Waswanipi is not opposed to the Baril-Moses Agreement or against economic development, but it does recognize the urgent need for amendments to save one of Quebec’s last old-growth forest. For an intact old growth forest the woodland caribou, moose and martin thrive in such areas.

Prior to these hearings I have taken the time to consult the tallyman and land users on their understanding of the present presentation by the proponent of the access road. All though some trappers have agreed in the past to these roads, they felt a gross misunderstanding of the multilateral discussions that have taken place.

The protection project for the Broadback Valley is serious, well documented and has received broad support from inside and outside the Cree Nation. Its supporters include hunting leaders, Cree First Nation Councils, NGOs and the scientific community.

I must state that the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi is not anti-development, but wish to protect our last remaining intact forest. We will do our best to protect our last remaining forest. We do realize and acknowledge that forestry roads have brought us some benefits, but we have witnessed the impact of forestry on our lands and to our Cree way of life. As much as we applaud Quebec’s first initiative in creating a protected area for the Woodland Caribou in the Broadback, we must take into account that a large part of this area has also been damaged by forest fires or has been harvested.

Since Quebec committed to protect 50% of the Plan Nord territory, let’s be logical and protect the last remaining untouched Boreal forest. Let’s not sabotage the whole plan by allowing new roads to be built.

My name is Marcel Happyjack, and as Chief of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi, I state our position clearly: We CANNOT allow the construction of any more forestry access roads, logging or any forestry activity in the Broadback River Valley area. We want our full Mishigamish and Waswanipi Protected Areas to be recognized and respected.

The time has come to recognize we can no longer ignore the readily available information that backs up our position on the urgent need for a protected area in the Broadback.

As occupants of the land, whether visitors or caretakers, we have a responsibility to take a leadership stand and protect the Cree Way of life, survival of a habitat, an ecosystem and an entire species, to ensure a sustainable environment for our children and for generations to come.

Thank you