GARDEN RIVER FIRST NATION—On August 24, the TEK Elders Group met with two representatives of Eacom Timber Corporation in Garden River First Nation.
The TEK Elders Group is composed of Robinson-Huron Treaty Elders working to end the aerial spraying of glyphosate in north shore Lake Huron forests. Glyphosate, also known as Roundup, is an herbicide used to kill poplar, raspberries, fireweed, birch, and other species that overgrow jack pine or spruce on recently replanted clear-cuts.
The purpose of the aerial spraying or “aerial tending”, as the Eacom representatives called it, is to “maintain the same proportion of species that were in the landscape when [the forest] was cut.”
Tallman said that forestry companies are mandated by Ontario to manage forests in such a way that replanted trees “go back to the forest inventory,” which occurs at the “free to grow” stage, five to 15 years after planting.
“Aerial tending is one of the more efficient ways for conifers to come up above the competition,” stated Jennifer Tallman.
“We have a very different perspective of how we manage the land,” stated Josh Eshkakogan, a citizen and Elder of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. “We try to create a very diverse land and we can’t use poison to create a certain species for a user group.”
The approach of the newcomers is point focused, as Art Petahtegoose explained, surveying land, renaming places and defining spatial areas for exploitation.
“Suddenly it voids our presence, it erases our presence in our home,” Art Petahtegoose said. “It’s not an objective that we’re exploiting, it’s a life…when we put the Anishinabek name on a water body, we say there is a life there, an ecology that has to remain intact.”
The Elders spoke about how herbicides poison everything that lives in the sprayed area, from the water to moose to insects, which together form an integrated whole.
“The weeds did their job at a certain time,” Ray Owl of Sagamok Anishnawbek explained. “The Creator made them to do their job. That lifecycle is only so long and then the jack pine or spruce takes over.”
Garden River citizen Sue Chiblow pointed out that “this whole perspective of a tree competing against another tree is actually not true,” and that trees have been shown to share nutrients through sophisticated underground networks.
The Eacom representatives said that the company incorporates First Nations perspectives in the forest management process through the committees in charge of writing the 10 year plans.
Amanda Barbe from Henvey Inlet First Nation, sits on two different forest management planning committees and she noted that she “can tell you it is just a formality, it is not consultation.”
The primary role of First Nations individuals on forest management planning teams is to provide statistical data and information on “values” – points like bird nests and burial sites, or clearly defined areas such as trap lines – that would be disturbed by forestry operations. In Ontario, the forest management planning process begins with Crown approval for aerial spraying already in place. The use of forest herbicides is covered under the Class Environmental Assessment for Timber Management decision issued in 1994.
“Many of us believe the Crown doesn’t have the jurisdiction [over forest management]…what we’re seeing here is a jurisdictional issue,” Kenneth Daigle from Batchewana First Nations said.
The Elders made it clear that under Treaty the Anishinabek gave permission for the newcomers to come onto the land and make a life, but that the Anishinabek retain the authority to make land management decisions.
The Treaty was also meant to share the wealth of the land so that First Nations would “never be in want,” Petahtegoose said. Manual tending of replanted areas, while more expensive than using herbicides, is practiced in Quebec, where Eacom also has forestry operations and where aerial spraying is illegal.
Using mechanical tools to remove unwanted vegetation on timber plantations could provide jobs for Indigenous communities in Ontario, Skip Jones suggested.
“I was around when they used to tend and release yellow birch. As late as the 70s, when I was with Lands and Forests, every winter people were hired to tend yellow birch. The same thing could be applied here.”
Eacom’s representatives said that they take their permission for forestry practices from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Environment.
Stephen O’Neill, a lawyer and retired judge who represents the TEK Elders Group, spoke of the Robinson-Huron Treaty Annuities case and the resurgence of First Nations in the Treaty Territory. While the upcoming annuities decision won’t address aerial spraying, the court case goes to the heart of a treaty-making process in which First Nations and the Crown agreed to walk together, O’Neill said. He pointed out that when Eacom says it is not part of the problem between First Nations and the government, the company is in fact taking a side.
“If I say I’ll just get my authority from the Crown, am I not concluding that there is no [First Nations] perspective here, no authority, no jurisdiction?”
In January 2017, 21 Robinson-Huron Treaty Territory Chiefs signed a declaration and resolution calling for a moratorium on aerial spraying.
The declaration states that “the Robinson Huron Treaty communities and their people have not been adequately consulted as required by the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 and Canadian law, nor has Canada or Ontario received our free, prior, and informed consent to spray these chemicals within our treaty territory, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”