May 23/98: Native loggers vow defiance

NATIVE LOGGERS VOW DEFIANCE

Globe and Mail
May 23, 1998
Kevin Cox

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Fredericton, NB - The New Brunswick government's so-called soft crackdown on native logging has left native leaders frustrated and defiant. Native loggers vowed yesterday to defy the government's order that they stop cutting wood on Crown land, but they reluctantly acknowledged that the province is choking their fledgling businesses. And despite the presence of the militant Warriors' Society in the bush and reports that other native woodcutters are carrying weapons, provincial forest rangers have taken the first step toward cutting off the aboriginal logging operations without the kind of confrontations that have highlighted native disputes across the country.

Tim Paul, who operates a native woodcutting company near Minto, about 80 kilometres east of Fredericton, said he will step up security on his trucks. Provincial rangers seized two of them earlier this week, contending that they were carrying wood cut illegally on Crown land. "They're not going to have an easy time taking my trucks again," he said. But Mr. Paul and other native loggers aren't sure how they can prevent the seizures, which the provincial Department of Natural Resources says will continue. Rangers seized three other trucks on Thursday. Several of the native logging operations were prepared for a confrontation in the woods, but rangers with the Department of Natural Resources and the RCMP seized all five logging trucks on the province's highways - all several kilometres from where the woodcutters were operating.

There were no more seizures yesterday, and heavy rains prevented much activity in the bush. The seizures were designed to show non-native truckers and other companies supplying native loggers with equipment that they could lose their expensive rigs if they helped take wood illegally from Crown land. As well, the move cut off the native logging operations from their markets, leaving them vowing to saw trees that provincial rangers are determined to prevent them from selling. "I can cut those trees down, turn them into sawdust, splinters, whatever I want," Mr. Paul said. "They can't stop me other than stop me from selling the wood," he said outside a meeting on the St. Mary's reserve near Fredericton, where native leaders were trying to come up with a new strategy so they can continue logging.

Louella Woods, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, said yesterday that the province is deliberately taking the soft approach to enforcement. "We try to avoid confrontations by going to the trucks rather than to the operations themselves," she said, noting that there have been threats of militant action on the logging sites. "We have to consider the safety of our rangers as well as the safety of everyone in our operation." Since the New Brunswick Court of Appeal ruled last month that native loggers do not have the right to cut trees on Crown land, most of the sawmills in the province have agreed not to buy trees cut illegally. Native logging companies - many of which sprang up last fall after a New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench decision gave native people the right to cut trees on Crown land in the province - feel the crackdown acutely.

Robert Levi, chief of the Bog Cove band, said the crackdown is putting the squeeze on native logging. "It won't stop people from cutting, but it's going to make it hard for them to get the wood out," he said. "Now the non natives are saying 'I can't afford to have a $100,000 truck seized.'" The provincial strategy will only strain the relationship between native leaders and the province, Mr. Levi said. "One day they say they are not going to have any enforcement, and they're going to sit down and talk with the native leaders, and the next day they sneak around, so it looks pretty bad on their part," he said.

But a spokesman for Premier Camille Theriault said the province has negotiated with the native leaders, offering them the opportunity to cut trees on 5 per cent of Crown land and to find work with logging companies that hold leases on the land. At yesterday's meeting near Fredericton, Micmac and Maliseet leaders called for native loggers to continue cutting wood without being harassed. As well, the coalition called on the province to return the trucks and logs that were seized on Thursday. Douglas Tyler, New Brunswick's Minister of Natural Resources, who said Thursday that some non-native companies were spurring activity by native loggers, refused to comment on the situation yesterday. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Bernard Theriault was to meet with the loggers and their leaders last night.


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