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MEDIA RELEASE: Benny Forest Logging Dispute

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Press Release: Benny Forest Logging Dispute

June 29, 2015

A Native resident of Benny and Cartier, Ontario, Clyde McNichol, is fighting to protect the trees in the area of his ancestral home from lumbering giant Eacom. After months of effort since loggers arrived last April, negotiations with this New York City based logging company and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) have resulted in only temporary cessation of activities within a kilometer or two of his camp and family graveyard pending cultural and archeological studies this summer. But this is not adequate for survival of the interdependent indigenous plant and animal species of the area, nor for a traditional hunting territory of any kind, nor for hiking, camping and gathering activities for youth and families, he says. Clear cuts have leveled thousands of hectares of bush close to Benny this year. The area of Clyde’s father’s trap line is still slated for logging next Spring. An access road has been cut part way there from Highway #144 (that runs between Sudbury and Timmins) despite his objection, and Eacom is anxious to complete it in preparation for a Spring harvest. Clyde’s plans to provide cultural programming and summer camps for youth in Benny through his company, Camp Eagle Nest, have been seriously thwarted.

Two meetings have been held with MNRF on this issue and one with MPP France Gelinas. A letter from Julie Abouchar of Environmental, Aboriginal, Energy law office Willms Shier was sent April 22 nd outlining Clyde’s strong legal case. Hon. Gelinas hand-­‐delivered a letter to Hon. Bill Mauro from Chief Steve Miller of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek as well as photos showing inappropriate destruction near waterways. Four letters have been sent by Chief Steve Miller of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek (April 14, April 24, May 25, and June 11) and one letter was sent by Chief Lyle Sayers of Garden River First Nation (May 19) requesting an immediate halt to operations in the Benny area. Dean Fitzgerald and David Jolly of Premier Environmental Services have documented ecological values, old growth forest and protected species such as the Canada warbler in this area. Archeologist Patrick Julig of Laurentian University has shared much archeological and historical information documenting Native use of the area. Interviews with three key informants who grew up in Benny have taken place, and medicine man Tom Isaac has visited the area twice and found it to be especially rich in traditional medicines. But cutting and hauling have continued despite multiple requests for further study before further values are lost.

Clyde’s request for protection of the forest within a 20 mile radius of Benny is based on an understanding of the amount of undisturbed area required for species survival as well as an understanding of the size of his family’s original hunting territory and the agreements made during the years leading up to the 1850 Robinson Huron treaty. Neither the crown, nor Canada has completed the surveying that was promised during these negotiations in order to protect the various branches of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek family including Clyde’s from settler 1 encroachment and non-­‐consensual resource extraction, according to elder and former Chief Art Petahtegoose, whose grandfathers on both sides were signatories. Furthermore, species such as moose and deer are not able to survive where clearcuts and single species replanting have taken place and they leave the area indefinitely, he says. Clyde’s Aboriginal treaty right to hunt, fish and gather is a collective right that is rendered meaningless when the animals and fish and plants are disturbed to such an extent as is happening today. No treaties have taken Clyde’s rights away, and he and his family have never been financially compensated for their loss of the land and preferred means of survival. His requests deserve serious immediate attention for reasons of ethics and justice as well as for the health and well-­‐being of all people and species who make their home in the area.


CTV came out to Benny and covered the issue on May 15 ( istPageNum=1) and May 28, 2015. ( istPageNum=1).

Facebook page:­‐the-­‐Benny-­‐Forest/388489664672582

There have been approximately 500 local and international signatures to date on a letters of petition circulated locally and at­‐logging-­‐the-­‐benny-­‐forest/

Youtube videos:

Camp Eagle Nest:

Benny is an hour’s drive north of Sudbury. It is situated between the Spanish and Wahnapitae Rivers on Bannerman Creek, a tributary of the Spanish River. It is near what has been called the Watershed, the Height of Land, the Haute Terre, or “Backbone of Canada” that divides rivers draining into the Great Lakes from those draining into Hudson’s Bay. In 1931, the area was described by Grey Owl as a “dark, forbidding panorama of continuous forest, with here and there a glistening lake set like a splash of quicksilver amongst the tumbled hills. A harsher, sterner land, this, 2 than the smiling Southland... [an enchanting] realm of high adventure, unconquered, almost unknown, and unpeopled except by a few scattered bands of Indians and wandering trappers.” There are many ancient and historic era archeaeological sites reported along the Spanish, indicating long-­‐term use of this area by the Anishnawbek and their ancestors for hunting and gathering for at least 8,000 years. Pictographs are found at various locations. At Fox Lake, south of Benny near the Spanish is the Foxie Otter site, with artifacts from the late Woodland to the early Archaic (ca. 7600 B.P.) one of the oldest C-­‐14 dated sites in this part of Canada. Some artifacts that have been reported include a large stone axe from Morgan Lake near Levack, and a wood dugout canoe recovered from below Windy Lake. The Spanish River was a very important travel/trade route from Georgian Bay/Lake Huron into the north and Arctic watershed. There was a Hudson Bay Trading post at the river mouth of the Spanish River, Fort LaCloche, and another upriver about 25 kilometers north of Spanish Lake, at Pogamasing Lake and Onaping Lake, which was open from the 1880s to the early twentieth century. It is possible that a portage between the Spanish and the Onaping/Vermillion river systems crossed the Benny area because the two drainage systems are relatively close at this point.

There are two cemeteries located in Benny: a cemetery with about 60 native burial grounds clearly marked currently, and a Catholic cemetery with an unknown number of native burials. Mr. McNichol's ancestors are buried in each of these grounds. There are additional burial grounds in the area which are not marked. The people often preferred to be buried where they lived in homes spread across the surrounding area, rather than in the village, according to key informants.

The area includes medicinal plants like swampy iron wood, Labrador tea, sweetgrass, sage and cedar. Over 100 species of plants were used by the Anishinawbek for medicines, foods, traditional crafts, as well as for dyes, decorations and many other uses. The plants provided suitable habitat for moose, rabbits, beaver, bear, fox, and porcupine. The area includes old growth forest, which supports Species at Risk including: Blanding’s Turtle, Common Nighthawk, Barn Swallow, Canada Warbler, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Whip-­‐poor-­‐will and Chimney Swift. These are species that the MNRF routinely identifies to mining companies in the area as requiring legal protection. However, when it comes to forestry, MNRF is permitting logging to destroy this old growth habitat, including red and white pine, and the species that it supports.

Geneva Lake is one of many beautiful lakes in the area Clyde is trying to protect. Some of the year – round residents are supporting Clyde’s case in the hope that logging operations in their area will thereby be halted or dramatically curtailed. They have organized and participated in several meetings with the MNRF and Eacom on this issue including one in Benny with Clyde. They are especially concerned about the proposed use of herbicides after logging has taken place, as well as the despoilment of the land, speckled trout and other fish spawning areas, shelter for deer, bear, fox and other game with only a 30 m. protection between their road and clearcuts in the Forestry Management Plan that the MNRF has approved.

One side of Clyde's family is from a branch of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek that did not move to the present day reserve boundaries at the time of the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty negotiations. Instead, they integrated into settler society schools and jobs when they were no longer able to meet their needs traditional ways due to over hunting, fishing and trapping after the railway came through in 1886. They always understood that surveyors would come from Canada to set aside their hunting territory (as well as those of other family groupings) as a part of the reserve within approximately 20 mile radius from their home communities, but this has never happened. They also understood that profits from any resource extraction that they agreed to would be shared equitably, but this also did not happen for Clyde’s family, and only to a maximum of $4 per year per person for those who achieved “status” by moving onto the present day reserve boundaries. Clyde’s grandfather, Joe Canard, was taken to live with relatives in Atikameksheng Anishnawbek as a young child by his parents, likely because they had contracted disease carried by newcomers, according to local Elder and former chief Art Petahtegoose. Mr. Canard later returned to Benny with his wife Ida Bejigwan, also of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, to raise their own large family, starting with Clyde’s mother Angela, their first born child. They often lived away from town on a trap line, partly in an effort to protect their children from going to residential schools. Clyde’s mother taught many of her younger brothers and sisters to read and write in English, according to his aunt, the late Kay Espaniel, who raised Clyde and his brothers after their parents passed away. On the other side of the family, Clyde’s grandfather, Thomas McNichol, a Montagnais from Quebec, married Suzanne Espaniel of the Sagamok Anishnawbek and built the first log cabin in Benny where previously traditional wigwams were used. Clyde’s father served in the Canadian army for four years in Europe during WWII before returning and taking jobs in forestry and with CP rail when he could not support his family through hunting, fishing and trapping due in part to encroachment on his trap line by snow mobilers.

Though most family members have needed to find employment outside the village of Benny and the population has decreased, some family members continue to live there seasonally or year-­‐round. Camp Eagle Nest has a base camp in Benny. Natives living in Benny never paid tax or rent until last year when Domtar purportedly sold the land where homes stood to one of its contractors, Philip Martel. Clyde believes that the forestry companies never owned that land nor did they have any right to sell. The treaty allowed them to negotiate with the Native people who were living there for lumbering rights only. They were supposed to share profits with the Native peoples who retained title to the "land now occupied by them" in the words of the treaty. Contacts: Press release compiled by Barbara McNichol and Melanie Montour. Can help set up interviews with Clyde McNichol, Elders, Geneva Lake residents and other concerned citizens.

Special Invitation to Media:

The Media are invited to a press conference in Benny July 1 st at 11 a.m. at which time there will be a presentation of some of the values of the forest. We expect hand drummers and other supporters at this time for family activities, a medicine walk, beading workshops and more. For more information contact Barbara McNichol or Melanie Montour.

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