NITASKINAN, QC, June 28, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - Some 36 hours after the start of their logging activities blockade on their ancestral territory, the Atikamekw Nation finally received a call from Québec Natives Affair's Minister. "We spoke to Natives Affair's Minister Geoff Kelley, but he had nothing to present us", said Wemotaci Chief, David Boivin. Consequently, the Atikamekw leaders decided to maintain their blocking of logging activities and logging transportation in Haute Mauricie region.
Since last Monday at midnight, the Atikamekw from Opitciwan and Wemotaci have erected roadblocks on road 25 between La Tuque and Wemotaci, and another one between the hamlets of Parent and Clova. Protesters are preventing access of trucks carrying wood, but are letting the residents and vacationers go through.
The First Nations protesters are also allowing free passage to Via Rail passenger trains, but threaten to block the CN freight trains. "Minister Julie Boulet says we are holding regional economy workers hostage. It's rather the government who has been taking the economy of our communities hostage for decades", said the Chief of Opitciwan, Christian Awashish.
Being the First Nation occupying this territory for more than 4,000 years, the Atikamekw detain ancestral rights, including an aboriginal title and an inherent right to self-government. After being opposed and blocked for two centuries, these rights have finally been recognised, in principle, in the 1970's by the governments of Canada and of Québec. A negotiation referred to as "Comprehensive Land Claim" has been started to outline the reach of these rights. This negotiation has been lingering on for the last 32 years. At the same time, the private firms and the Québec Government keep exploiting the land as if the Atikamekw had no rights on the territory. "The Comprehensive Land Claim negotiation is not a permit to baffle our rights. We ask the Québec Government to respect our rights and to agree immediately on new natural resources managing regulations", explained the Chief of Manawan, Paul-Émile Ottawa.
The Atikamekw still wish to pursue the territorial negotiations to agree on a treaty. However, after 32 years of negotiations without any results, it is necessary to find other avenues that would allow an accommodation of their rights. Thus, the Atikamekw ask the Government of Québec to set up a negotiating table to conclude a "Nation to Nation" agreement on a range of topics falling within provincial jurisdictions, particularly with respect to the land and natural resources management. More specifically, the Atikamekw requests that a co-management of the territory method be put forth, as well as the establishment of mechanisms that allow the Atikamekw communities to have benefits from the exploitation of the territory.
Kruger's Double Standard
The Atikamekw deplore Kruger's "double standard", as this company has agreed to a deal with the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, including an annual payment of $20,000 as compensation for the installation of wind turbines on land subject to land claims. "If this is true for the construction of wind turbine, it should be as well for cutting trees," said Chief Awashish.
About the Manawan, Opitciwan and Wemotaci communities
Located in the North-East part of the Lanaudière region, Manawan has a population of 2,400. The governance is assured by the Conseil des Atikamekw de Manawan. Located at the North of the Gouin Reservoir, some 300 kilometers West of Roberval, the Opitciwan community include 2,592 members, 2,169 of which live on the reservation, and is administered by the Conseil des Atikamekw d'Opitciwan. The Wemotaci community, located on the shores of the Saint-Maurice River, the Wemotaci community comprises 1,700 members, and is administered by the Conseil des Atikamekw de Wemotaci. The Atikamekw people have occupied the Nitaskinan for millennium.
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