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Montreal rallies in support of Algonquin of Barriere Lake

Hundreds protest unsanctioned clear-cutting on unceded territory by Resolute Forest Products

by Tim McSorley

Around 200 people protested unsanctioned logging on unceded Algonquin land with their signs and pots and pans
Around 200 people protested unsanctioned logging on unceded Algonquin land with their signs and pots and pans
The Algonquin of Barriere Lake are calling on the government to abide by treaties and agreements they have signed.
The Algonquin of Barriere Lake are calling on the government to abide by treaties and agreements they have signed.
Singing & drumming in solidarity with ABL
Singing & drumming in solidarity with ABL
Montreal rallies in support of Algonquin of Barriere Lake
Protesters attempt to deliver a letter from Barriere Lake to Resolute
Protesters attempt to deliver a letter from Barriere Lake to Resolute
Security guards block protesters from delivering the letter.
Security guards block protesters from delivering the letter.
Montreal rallies in support of Algonquin of Barriere Lake
CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois pledges solidarity with Indigenous peoples' struggles.
CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois pledges solidarity with Indigenous peoples' struggles.

In an event that at least one organizer has called unprecedented, some 200 people marched through the streets of Montreal on Wednesday in support of an Algonquin community four hours north of the city.

Since early July, the Algonquin of Barriere Lake, who live on the reserve of Rapid lake near the town of Maniwaki, have been taking action to halt what they allege is illegal logging on their land. Since July 3, Resolute Forest Products, formerly Abitibi Bowater Consolidated, has been clear cutting on part of ABL's traditional land. While the company claims it received the consent of the local band council, other members of the community say that the consent of the Wawatie family, which lives off the land being cut, was never received. Gabriel Wawatie, the main harvester of that land, has been participating in the protest and has sent letters to both the Quebec government and the company disputing their claims that he signed a consent form (which the company has never provided).
 
“We never gave consent for this cutting, we have been there [on the logging road] ever since [the cutting began]. We are there to make sure that these workers don't work,” said Norman Matchewan, an ABL spokesperson who spoke to the crowd via a cell-phone hooked up to speakers. None of the Algonquin protesters made the trip to Montreal since they are still needed at the protest camp. 
 
When they realized that the company was moving in to cut, members of ABL established a protest camp along the logging road, and have moved to prevent cutting each time work began. There has been a large police presence, including Sûreté du Québec officers, Montreal riot police, paddy-wagons and helicopters, but no arrests. Matchewan reported that the police presence has died down since it's height late last week, but that SQ officers and Montreal riot police are still on hand.
 
For more on the the protests in Barriere Lake, read our coverage here.
 
Wednesday's Montreal demonstration began in Griffintown, at 111 Duke Street, where Resolute has its headquarters. There, some 150 arrived with their pots and pans in a nod to the casserole demonstrations which gained in popularity following the Quebec government's passage of Law 78. Organizers have highlighted that the struggle of Indigenous people for sovereignty over their land and to be consulted by both government and private interests has parallels with the fight against other one-sided government decisions, such as the increase in tuition fees or the imposition of a health care tax. ABL protesters have even been distributing red squares at their protest camp.
 
Demonstration organizers were heartened by the number of people on hand. When asked what she thought was different this time around, Barriere Lake Solidarity spokesperson Molly Churchill said she believes that a shift in public opinion is taking place.
 
“I think people are realizing more and more that Indigenous peoples' issues are also society's issues, and that if we want a just society we must work with Indigenous people who are fighting a government that is attacking their rights,” she said. Barriere Lake Solidarity (BLS) is a non-Native solidarity group working with members of ABL to support their fight against unsanctioned logging and other resource exploitation on their land.
 
The theme of solidarity was also taken up by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a spokesperson for the Enlarged Coalition of the Association for a Solidarity Among Student Unions (CLASSE). The coalition of student associations, which is the main moving force behind the ongoing Quebec student strike, encouraged members to attend the rally.
 
“At CLASSE, we are conscious that neoliberalism isn't only the tuition fee hike, it isn't just the privatisation of public services-it's also the Plan Nord, it's also shale gas [fracking], it's also the rampant exploitation of natural resources, the disrespect of the people who have lived on this land for millenia,” he said. "We are here today to show our opposition to what is happening in Barriere lake and to assure you that we will fight this with you, with the same force and determination that we have fought the tuition fee increase.
 
“Our enemies are the same, we must fight side by side, students, Indigenous people, workers...We must keep fighting. One day we will win. And we will win for a simple reason. We will win because we are right.”
 
To the sound of clambering pots and pans, the protesters then attempted to deliver a letter form the community to Resolute's executives. Private security refused to let them enter, while Montreal police looked on from a distance.
 
“It's always like this for Indigenous peoples' rights: the doors are shut, we can't get our message through,” Jamie Ross, another BLS member, said to the crowd.
 
The group then marched up to Jean Charest's Montreal offices at the corner of McGill College and Sherbrooke, where a heavy police presence awaited them.
 
The crowd grew as it reached the downtown core, and while the crowd couldn't get close to the premier's offices, they still made as much noise as they could. 
 
Cleeve Higgins, a member of the Anti-Colonial Solidarity Collective, spoke to the crowd about the growing protests in the north among Innu and First nations communities, against mining and forestry and the Plan Nord. In April, he pointed out, Innu women marched from their territory in Nitassinan to Montreal to bring their protest to the Salon Plan Nord. Those same women, he said, are now marching community to community in the north to gather signatures against the government's northern development plan. There have also been several other blockades recently, including one established by Atikamekw people in the Haute Mauricie against logging on their land, and by Innu people near Schefferville to protest mining. 
 
“Just as people across Montreal and Quebec, with the student movement and the social strike, have been rising up, people in the north, Indigenous communities are also rising up, and this type of solidarity, at demonstrations like this, are what can make a connection between those struggles and allow us both to be stronger.”
 
It is still unclear how the dispute will be resolved, since the Quebec government has so far stayed quiet, and Resolute's only statement following the rally was a press release where they re-affirmed that the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife issued them a permit and that they will continue their logging. 
 
BLS and others, meanwhile, are encouraging people to make donations and send supplies up to the community, as well as to send letters to the Quebec government voicing their opposition to the clear cutting.
 

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