14 July 2012
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE: To protect and serve
photos by Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement of Ottawa (IPSMO).
To protect and serve. That is the motto of the provincial police force Sureté du Quebec, and perhaps the majority of police departments world-wide. To protect and serve whom? The Algonquins of Barriere Lake continue to ask this question.
On 3 July 2012, Montreal-based Resolute Forestry Products (formerly Abitibi Consolidated) arrived and began logging operations on Barriere Lake’s traditional territory. The community learned of the planned cut only about a week before – not from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) but by another source. MNR denied a community representative’s request for a meeting, saying it would only meet with elected tribal officials. MNR also refused to divulge the areas designated for cutting.
MNR of Quebec issued Resolute a logging permit even though neither party consulted with the community, including elected officials, prior to planning and executing the operation. This violates the 1991 “Trilateral Agreement” between the Canadian federal government, Quebec’s provincial government and the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, which gives the community decisive say over 10,000 square km of their traditional territory.
The community began a public witness in the area on Wednesday, 4 July. Resolute ceased operation Thursday. Anticipating a police response, Barriere Lake requested CPT’s presence, and CPTers arrived Sunday.
Several logging contractors arrived early Monday, 9 July. Community members hand delivered a letter asking Resolute to cease all operations. A Sureté du Quebec (SQ) intelligence officer who arrived during this exchange harshly advised the community to stop pressuring the loggers and let them work.
SQ Sgt. Yves Martineau arrived mid-morning. He and the community held several conversations during the day. In the last one, Martineau told the community that logging would commence in the morning and anyone attempting to block the loggers’ entrance or impede their work would be arrested immediately. He advised them to expect a heavy police presence.
Early Tuesday about nine police vehicles and six company cars entered the territory. An SQ helicopter hovered and swooped overhead. No one attempted to block the caravan. The community proceeded to the site that afternoon, armed with signs, children and determination. SQ allowed people to stand at the roadside, holding signs for loggers and police to see.
“Deep down I’m crying inside,” said Maggie Wawatie, looking across a barren wasteland. “Who protects the trees? Who protects the animals?”
“Shame on you!” shouted Norman Matchewan to the armed SQ officers lining the road. “The other day, a baby bear was seen in there! Who do you protect?”
Though dejection and depletion were widespread Tuesday evening, by Wednesday evening a sense of joy, satisfaction and pride swept the camp.
Early Wednesday afternoon, a small group set out into the bush to approach the site from the remaining tree line. As they entered the cut area, they divided and approached each of the two earthmovers. The earthmovers immediately reversed course and headed for the road. Jubilant shouts swept across the group. As they followed the machines, children and adults, many carrying signs, joined the procession. Others cheered and shouted from the road. APTN news captured the moment on camera. SQ did not intervene and there were no arrests.
The Algonquins of Barriere Lake had defied the threat of arrest and successfully – if temporarily – shut down logging operations.
As camp fires began to crackle, CPT observed many SQ vehicles leaving and entering the territory. Campsite visitors reported an increased SQ presence on the roads. “Tomorrow is going to be a scary day,” remarked a woman. Perhaps. But they remain, to serve and protect their land, the trees, the animals: their way of life.