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Others meeting with the logging company before him had said yes — but Saganash said no, and the band chief couldn’t change his mind.
And that’s when Saganash’s role as defender of the Waswanipi forest really took root.
James O’Reilly, a wily Montreal lawyer who has represented the Cree for over 40 years, had told Saganash that the July agreement left a door open to save the Broadback Valley. Waswanipi has established a task force to negotiate with the Cree Grand Council and the province.
Saganash was miffed that Coon Come had not consulted Waswanipi beforehand on the new deal, and was upset that the 9,134-square-kilometre protected area did not include the Waswanipi section of the Broadback Valley. Quebec’s top civil servant, secretary-general of the executive council Juan Roberto Iglesias, has named a Montreal expert as Quebec negotiator, and the two sides have agreed to a December deadline to redefine the protected area.
Gull described such areas on their traditional territory as being like “a scarred lung that would never heal.” On July 13, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, representing Quebec’s 18,000 Cree, signed a new agreement on co-management of forestry and protection of the woodland caribou.
The agreement, which had been initiated by Cree lawsuits against Quebec for non-respect of a 2002 agreement on forestry management, says the Cree “shall not oppose the environmental authorization of access roads.” The idea had been that the nine James Bay Cree chiefs would all sign.
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“My land is not for sale,” Saganash told a company official who outlined plans to build a bridge across the Broadback River at Quénonisca Falls as part of a new forestry road to bring out the harvested trees.That’s an area about half the size of New Brunswick.Since the 1970s, a 32,000-kilometre maze of access roads has been pushed through the traditional Waswanipi territory, disrupting habitat for the woodland caribou, moose and other animals.But Waswanipi Chief Marcel Happyjack was the one holdout, saying: “It’s not a good deal for us.” Instead, the Waswanipi Cree and their Greenpeace allies demonstrated their opposition to the deal outside the Quebec National Assembly.
So when it came time for the signing ceremony between Couillard and Coon Come, annexed to the deal was a letter from the premier affirming the government’s willingness “to have meaningful discussions” to bring in Waswanipi. You now have the power.’ ” And so the Waswanipi Cree hope the province’s willingness to bring them into the fold will result in concrete measures to protect their land.Over the years that followed, others in the community — including the other tallymen who had accepted the logging company’s deal — began to see things his way.