The following text is part of Forests - The past foretold, the fourth journal of the Comitee for territorial defence and decolonisation. The whole journal is available in web version here. If you want to have it in paper form, or to distribute it in your community, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your copies (everything’s free including shipping)
The Ya’nienhonhndeh (Forest of the Moïse Lake) is the last vestige of intact forest found south of the 52nd parallel. In the Wendat language, the name for this territory means ‘the place where medicinal plants are gathered’. The Ya’nienhonhndeh comprises an expanse of dense pristine forest measuring roughly 320 km2 and containing over 100 lakes. According to colonial cartography, the forest of Lac à Moïse is to the west of the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve and to the north of the Portneuf Wildlife Reserve. Many people from Wendake have said that, up until the 1930s, an ancestor by the name of Moïse Gros-Louis long made use of this land while carrying out traditional practices.
For several years now, logging has intensified in the pristine forest of Ya’nienhonhndeh and in surrounding areas, sites that are critical for maintaining the area’s biodiversity. In 2018, an agreement between the Wendake Band Council and the government of Québec allowed for the placement of a moratorium on logging. However, in 2019 forest clearing operations still took place within the moratorium zone. According to the government and the Wendake Band Council, certain zones had already been given over to the logging industry before the moratorium was signed, thereby excluding them from the agreement. The moratorium ended in April 2020. Since then, everything has remained vague and scheduled felling operations have still not been cancelled.
A large part of the 800km2 territory, encompassing over 200 lakes at the headwaters of the Batiscan, Moïse, Lightning and Metabetchouane Rivers, has already been cut down. The Wendat people want to preserve this land for future generations, but the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party, along with the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, have authorised logging activities in this pristine forest with their 2018–2023 Tactical Integrated Forest Management Plan.
Ever since being implemented in 2018, CAQ’s Tactical Integrated Forest Management Plan has permitted logging to take place everywhere – in protected areas, national parks, nature reserves, etc. Unsurprisingly, CAQ wants to circumvent its commitment to reaching 17% of land and water protected areas throughout Québec by 2020 while permitting ‘sustainable activities’. This illustrates once again the way in which destructive forces have expropriated not only living environments, but also language itself by depriving words of their intended meaning.
Wendat people say that up until the 1930s, while hunting on the traditional territories of Lac à Moïse, they formed relations of companionship with the Innu, whose hunting grounds are close by. Since then, with the advance of settler colonisation in northern Québec, these territories have been robbed. Beyond underscoring its natural wealth, the Wendat Nation has also emphasised the historic importance of Ya’nienhonhndeh as possibly the last place that has remained intact – in other words, the forest and its ecosystem maintain the conditions that are akin to those before the arrival of European invaders. In 2016, archaeological surveys carried out by the archeologist Michel Plourde and his team from Laval University led to the discovery of rock paintings on a cliff as well as other types of evidence of the millennia-old presence of the Wendat people.
The ecological continuity of an intact forest gives it many extraordinary attributes through which it can support a great diversity of microhabitats and plant, vegetable and mammal species. Among the most important organisms there, you will find microorganisms – bacteria, fungi and lichens – which play a crucial role in recycling organic matter to sustain life throughout the forest. Furthermore, the diversity can work to regulate wildfires, rodent populations and illnesses.
As expected, logging companies and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, have been claiming that a forest reaches maturity around 80 or 90 years of age to justify tree cutting as a means to avoid the risk of ‘losing the wood’. The same extractivist logic has been invoked in regards to the forest surrounding Lac à Moïse. The presence of the spruce budworm has also been cited as a justification for tree cutting, as it reinforces the idea that the ecosystem has already been decimated by the outbreak and is no longer intact.
According to this logic, tree cutting should be done quickly in order to reduce the infestation and recover as much of the wood as possible. In August 2019, the community of Wendake received funding from the federal government to conduct research for the following four years and called for the suspension of all logging activities for the length of time required to complete their research. They also hope to verify the presence of woodland caribou in Charlevoix and to study the composition of certain lakes that have never been affected by logging activities.For two years, a group composed of non-Indigenous land and water protectors and members of the Wendake community has been regularly going to the forest of Lac à Moïse to determine the coordinates of tree-cutting operations via GPS readings and to report on the destruction of the territory.
It is difficult to describe the feeling you get when experiencing first-hand the reality how these guardians tend this territory since time immemorial. Here, you can find many traces of animal life in the unimaginable magnitude of moss and lichen. Beyond its splendour and deeply rooted history, this place is a veritable sanctuary for numerous species and for traditional Wendat practises. To claim that the unimpeded destruction of these last vestiges of unaltered living environments is a crime would be an understatement.
Despite the moratoriums, people must act with utmost vigilance in order to prevent the destruction of the Ya’nienhonhndeh. The only way for us to take note of clear-cutting activities and the felling of enormous centuries-old yellow birch tree trunks for profit is by being present on the territory. As you journey into the depths of the Ya’nienhonhndeh, along waterways carved between the mountains for thousands of years, you can still walk the same portages that were taken centuries ago. Land Defenders and Water Protectors intend to maintain a presence on this territory to ensure that the complete destruction of this last pristine forest does not proceed in silence.