Treaty rights on clearcutting allegedly overstepped

By Bryan Eneas
September 8, 2016 - 6:00am

Clear-cutting is impacting the traditional First Nations way of life in west central Saskatchewan.

Activist Sylvia McAdam Saysewahum, who has been camped out on her family’s traditional hunting lands near Leoville, said “It’s like a land grab up here, and it’s a frenzy.”   

Many patches of landscape have been stripped completely bare of trees and shrubs along Highway 943 and large piles of dirt and unusable wood have replaced the lush Boreal Forest.

Saysewahum accused Big River First Nation, the provincial government and the logging companies involved of infringing upon treaty land rights.

She said only 20 band members attended a consultation last year by Big River First Nation Chief and council about the clear-cutting.

“It's manufactured consent," she said. "Saskatchewan environment was told (band members) did not know anything and consent was never given and the band members, the title holders to these lands, were never notified.” 

Since her traditional lands are not on the Big River First Nation reserve, she said chief and council have no authority to make decisions about what happens on her land.

In a Facebook post made on Friday, Saysewahum said she spoke with crews who identified themselves as workers from Meadow Lake OSB. These workers informed her a two-mile area around her camp would not be affected by the clear-cutting.

She said she’s seen equipment and clear-cutting less than a mile from her shelter on the land which she inherited from her father.

“He doesn’t want to see this,” she said, gesturing towards her scarred lands. “It’s the place his grandparents used to walk, and now it’s gone. It’s destroyed, burnt down, erased.”

The clear-cutting activities are a sign for more ominous things to come for Saysewahum.

“We’re contributing to climate change. Look at this,” Saysewahum said, indicating the fallen trees on her land. “In my lifetime I won’t see that land come back. Maybe in my grandchildren’s time but certainly not mine.”

As well, she said there’s been an increase in aerial traffic overhead. As far as she knows, there has been testing and exploration for oil and gas occurring on the traditional lands for the last 20 years.

“You know the process-take the trees and then go underground… I didn’t want to say it out loud before, but they found oil and gas. They didn’t have the technology 20 years ago to take it, but now they do,” she said.

Ministry of Environment says Big River First Nation was consulted

David Cobb, manager of operations and compliance for the ministry of environment, said logging companies must go through numerous steps before projects are approved, which includes First Nations consolation.

“Our duty consult process was done with Big River First Nation, and they were provided an opportunity to consult on the annual operating plan,” Cobb said. “Our duty to consult was done with chief and council or the elected officials from the specific First Nations.”

Annual operating plans include the details about where forest harvests will take place for the next one to five years, according to Cobb. These operating plans are designed in consultation with First Nations or Metis in the forested area.

paNOW reached out to Meadow Lake OSB’s parent company Tolko Industries, AC Forestry, and Sakaw Askiy Management Inc. for comment. No calls or emails were returned by deadline. 


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