[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]
Edmonton - Activists are considering an end to a boycott against forestry giant Daishowa Inc. after the company promised Wednesday to stay out of a large area claimed by the Lubicon Cree band.
Coming a month after a court ruling allowing the boycott, the announcement looks promising, said Ed Bianchi, a spokesperson for Friends of the Lubicon.
"We're waiting for more specifics before we break open the champagne," he said in an interview.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that this means Daishowa is making a public commitment that we have asked them to make for the last seven years."
Bianchi commented after Daishowa-Marubeni International Inc. announced it will not log in 10,000 square kilometres of land claimed by the Lubicon until the claim is settled by the Alberta and federal governments.
A court decision last month that allowed resumption of a boycott against Daishowa must have played a part in the latest company decision, Bianchi said.
"Obviously, what was influential is the way the boycott gained momentum during the trial and after the decision."
Last month, an Ontario judge quashed an injunction against the boycott that Daishowa Inc. had won in 1996. He ruled the activists have a right to freedom of speech.
Friends of the Lubicon and other supporters had launched a boycott against paper bags sold by Daishowa, saying the company's logging rights threatened the Lubicon's way of life.
The court case was certainly a factor in the latest announcement, said Jim Morrison, Edmonton general manager at Daishowa-Marubeni, a company affiliated with Daishowa Inc.
But so was the Daishowa-Marubeni's recent decision to shelve its paper mill which would have been added to the pulp mill near Peace River, Morrison added.
That has allowed the company to negotiate changed logging rights outside the Lubicon claim area, he explained. "The boycott file is closed as far as we are concerned."
Up until now, Daishowa-Marubeni has voluntarily stayed out of the contested area, but the Lubicon band has not been satisfied that this has had any legal standing.
The company has also waffled on whether it would stay out of only a small 160-square-kilometre area, or the much larger 10,000-square-kilometres that forms part of the Lubicon land claim, said band advisor Fred Lennarson.
If it is the larger area, as stated by the company Wednesday, the boycott would be wound down, Lennarson said. However, it is not clear yet what would happen if Daishowa-Marubeni decided to eventually go ahead with the paper mill, he added. "That raises a whole series of other questions."
Nonetheless, the Lubicon want a settlement to their 59-year-old struggle for land, Lennarson said.
A pledge by pulp-and-paper giant Daishowa to walk away from a tract of prime timberland claimed by the Lubicon Cree - in hopes native supporters will end a crushing boycott - is being greeted with cautious optimism.
Fred Lennarson, a longtime adviser to Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak, called yesterday's unexpected vow by the Japanese mega-corporation to never harvest an 11,000-sq.-km slice of northern Alberta forests "a welcome development."
But the Edmonton management consultant was quick to stress that Daishowa's self-imposed logging moratorium won't immediately end a product boycott Daishowa claims has cost it up to $20 million since 1991.
"I know too much to just accept this at face value," Lennarson said. "When you do business with people like this, you've got to be careful."
Lennarson was responding to a news release issued by Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd., joint operators of a huge paper mill near Peace River, that it is no longer logging Lubicon lumber in the band's "area of concern."
Daishowa spokesman Jim Morrison said the recent suspension of plans for a new $900-million paper mill, prompted by Asia's lingering financial crisis, played a role in the decision.
Morrison denied any suggestion Daishowa will flip-flop on its decision to stay away from Lubicon-claimed land once the plant's economics improve. "This is an in-perpetuity commitment," Morrison said.
"There should be no reason for any confusion over this. There's no going back on what we've said today."
Toronto-based Friends of the Lubicon launched a boycott seven years ago after Daishowa gained timber rights in a region affected by the decades-old land claim.
Lennarson said the boycott's fate will be debated only after the band and its supporters are convinced the corporate pledge is for real.
"Exactly what it is they're offering to do has to be made very, very clear before the boycott is wound down," he said.