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 cddt@riseup.net to get your copies (everything’s free including shipping)

 

This fall, the Atikamekw Nation found itself at the center of the media’s attention following the martyring of Joyce Echaquan, the mother of an Atikamekw family, who was the victim of racist insults in her final moments at the Joliette Hospital. After five centuries of genocide, the media and politicians seem to have finally woken up to the existence of racism and its murderous consequences. For one or two weeks, they lingered over the issue of racism directed towards Indigenous peoples in the Québec healthcare system, all the while avoiding any mention of the Atikamekw’s land claims. Even the most open-minded journalists, commentators, and politicians were careful to dissociate systemic racism and the dispossession of territories, so as not to question the legitimacy of the Canadian colonial state’s sovereignty.

 

The family of Joyce Echaquan and the Atikamekw were given a national apology, and the affair simply disappeared from the news cycle. Without delay, funds were allocated by the CAQ to sensitise healthcare workers to indigenous cultures and to improve the medical facilities on the reserves. However, it’s clear that the CAQ is using the death of Joyce Echaquan to depoliticise and defuse the ongoing struggle against the colonial project and the genocide of the First Nations. Legault, accompanied by several nationalists, is instead propagating a war against the use of the term ‘systemic racism’ to designate the cancer that is eating away at Québec society and its institutions. The political repercussions that follow from the use of the term pose too great a danger for the smooth pursuit of the project of dispossession.   

 

 THE CAPITAINE WORKSITE

Monday, the 24th of August 2020, following a family demonstration for the protection of the forests in the Lanaudière region, 30 land defenders rallied under the group Mobilisation Matawinie and occupied the Capitaine logging site where work was due to begin. The name for this forestry site is cynically borrowed from Capitaine Lake, which has been greatly affected by the clear-cutting of the forest and the destruction of the streams that flow into it. The forest is bordered by an ecological refuge and several lakes where spawning grounds have been identified. Recently, these territories, already parceled out through economic neo-colonisation, were cleared to make way for forest roads, a crucial step in the race to eradicate the boreal forest. Halting the construction of forest roads is therefore an essential step to ending deforestation and the destruction of waterways and wetlands. 

 

Since the blockade, the Atikamekw Dubé families, who are the guardians of the territory to which the Capitaine work site belongs, have only obtained a pause on the logging due to take place in the winter 2021 season. Other Atikamkew families, worried by the logging taking place on their territories and inspired by the unfolding of the blockade, are examining their options. Next spring, all signs indicate that those who remain vigilant will have to respond to calls for assistance and reinforcement. 

 

SYMBOLIC ACTION

The objectives of the symbolic action to occupy this clear-cut site are not only to remind the forestry industry that their destructive actions are being closely monitored. People assume that wildlife reserves are protected areas, but nothing could be further from the truth. The destructive undertaking of the forestry companies is entirely legal while acting without observing any rules or regulations. The territory targeted by the forestry management plan stretches over the entire RCM of the Matawinie, a little more than 712,000 hectares. Orchestrated by the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks, more than 50% of it will be razed. 

 

THE NITASKINAN

At the end of August, land defenders blocked a forestry work site, an area of 427 hectares, located in the Nitaskinan, the unceded territory of the Atikamekw community. The Atikamekw Nehiro-wisiwok nation, composed of almost 7000 people, is located in the communities of Manawan, Obedjiwan, and Wemotaci. They have occupied the Nitaskinan since time immemorial, and it has never been ceded nor made the object of any treaty.

 

The Atikamekw Sipi – Council of the Atikamekw Nation has been negotiating for more than 35 years to obtain a tentative agreement on sovereignty with the federal and provincial governments. In 2014, the Atikamekw nation issued a Declaration of Sovereignty, reclaiming its autonomy and territorial self-determination.

 

PRIORITY LANDS

The Atikamekw Sipi – Council of the Atikamekw Nation consider that at least 30–40% of the territory must be safeguarded for the pursuit of their activities and to maintain their ties to the land. Logging has been and continues to be the greatest source of environmental stress. The majority of the Nitaskinan is located in Mauricie, where only 9% of the territory is protected.

 

As in all the unceded territories of the Indigenous Nations, the colonisation of Nitaskinan continues unabated, not only through deforestation and the construction of hydroelectric dams and mines, but also through the development of the tourism industry. The Nitaskinan counts a dozen Controlled Harvesting Zones, 82 outfitters, and more than 12,000 cabins. It also includes the Saint-Mauricie Wildlife Reserve, to make no mention of the many campsites and beaches developed along the Saint-Maurice river.

 

If nothing is done, an area bigger than 5000 football fields of land will be razed. Let us recall once again that the new forestry plan of the CAQ includes cuts in protected areas and parks. It is imperative that we do everything we can to bring our support to the Atikamekw Nation in order to stop the destruction of Nitaskinan.