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Mistissini and Waswanipi to share resources, encourage economic development in forestry agreement

BY Ben Powless Nov 24, 2021

During a council board meeting in Ouje-Bougoumou October 26-27, Mistissini and Waswanipi signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would see the two communities share forestry resources, including a forestry engineer, opening the way for broader discussions in the future. 

“This MOU is a collaboration between Waswanipi and Mistissini to deal with certain forestry issues that affect both communities,” Mistissini Chief Thomas Neeposh told the Nation. “We both have forestry related business: they have the mill; we are finalizing the business plan and financial structure for Mistissini’s CLT [cross-laminated timber] modular housing plan.”

Neeposh says the MOU is in preparation for a larger agreement. At present the communities have agreed to share the costs for Waswanipi’s forestry engineer. The MOU also covers 350,000 cubic metres of wood from the Paix des Braves agreement, 125,000 for Mistissini and 225,000 for Waswanipi, of which 155,000 would be designated for Mishtuk, Waswanipi’s forestry corporation, and 75,000 would be designated for the sawmill. 

“It’s something that’s been discussed for quite some time, even with Chief Paul Gull, Richard Shecapio, it eventually led to discussions at the Cree Nation Government to set something up for forestry and economic development on forestry,” said Waswanipi Chief Marcel Happyjack. 

Happyjack said that Eenatuk – Mistissini’s forestry corporation – and Mishtuk had negotiations over the summer, which were predated by meetings between five Cree communities under the previous term of Grand Chief Abel Bosum, while ex-Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come was present.

“This is significant in that it enables us to start working together and show we can work together, put our resources together, show the Cree Nation and Quebec we can do something with our wood. They’ve always asked what we’re doing with our wood,” Happyjack said.  

Neeposh is optimistic that a more detailed agreement will be forthcoming that will allow the communities to deal with the forestry issues they have before the Forestry Board of Quebec and the Cree Nation Government, which would let the communities bring up collective issues and enhance their political and economic clout.

“What happens is that when Eenatuk or forestry corporations do some forestry work like cutting, they’re given poor quality or hard terrain areas by the province,” Neeposh explained. “We will be seeking better quality areas, better recognition of our forestry corporations. We seek to be treated fair in everything we do.” 

Neeposh said the sawmill is nearly complete, and that if everything works then the community’s CLT modular housing plan can begin next spring. He said there had also been discussions with other communities who were affected by forestry, including Ouje-Bougoumou, Nemaska and Waskaganish. 

For former Waswanipi Chief Paul Gull, who is now the president of Mishtuk, these discussions are welcome and long overdue. 

“Over the years I think there was about four of five chiefs we went through, had dialogue – ‘We’re gonna do something together’ – and that was about 30 years ago. I was just a councillor back then when we first talked about it,” Gull said. 

Gull says the initial goal was just to access timber and create value-added wood products at the mill. Now the goal is to update the mill so it’s fully functional and use it as a capacity building initiative for the community. Eventually, he would like to see Cree mills able to deliver two-by-fours to build houses in Cree communities. 

“We talk about housing in the Cree communities. The backlog is over 2,000 more houses in Cree communities. We’re trying to find a way to help that process catch up on housing also by doing it ourselves with our own wood,” Gull said. 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.