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Resolute Forest Products not honouring SFL agreement, says First Nations leader

Treaty 3 chief calls out forest products giant, throws support behind Fort Frances mill revival
Abitibi Mill Fort Frances 1 (2)
The leadership of Grand Council Treaty 3 wants to have its say on how Crown wood in northwestern Ontario is allocated and on Resolute Forest Products' plans to demolish its shuttered Fort Frances pulp and paper plant. (Rainy River Futures Dev. Corp. photo)

A northwestern Ontario First Nations leader maintains Resolute Forest Products shouldn't be permitted to take Crown wood out of the Fort Frances area.

Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Chief of Treaty 3, said the conditions of the provincial sustainable forest licence (SFL) agreement that the Montreal forest products company holds for the Crossroute Forest "does not appear to have been honoured."

"Resolute not only closed its Fort Frances mill, but has been cutting trees from our forest for its operations outside of Treaty 3. It is unclear who authorized this change," he said in a March 7 news release.

"Certainly, no authorization for this arrangement was ever sought from the Treaty 3 First Nations, nor would an authorization likely have been granted, because our traditional law requires that our resources support the local economy of our territory."

Resolute is the SFL licence holder for the Crossroute and has been diverting logs to its other operations in northwestern Ontario. But Kavanaugh and the Town of Fort Frances point out that the conditions of the SFL agreement indicate that that fibre belongs to the Fort Frances operation. 

Kavanaugh cited Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty 3 resource law – Manito Aki Inakonigaawin – which calls for the use of natural resources to be authorized by the Anishinaabe people, and for those resources to benefit the people living in their territory.

Headquartered in Kenora, Grand Council Treaty 3 represents 28 communities and 25,000 people in northwestern Ontario.

The Town of Fort Frances and the community anticipate Resolute will make an announcement this spring that a company is being brought in to demolish the former pulp mill, which was closed in 2013, a move the municipality vehemently opposes. 

For years, the town has been working with the province for local control of area Crown forest – through an Enhanced Sustainable Forest Licence – to enable a new owner to restart the mill with a new product line.

But town officials express little confidence that Resolute is actually looking to find a buyer that will bring the mill back to life, especially if it uses wood fibre from the Crossroute Forest. 

Kavanaugh stated a corporation shouldn't be allowed to "consolidate its control" over a publicly owned forest.

“Many in our region are rightly concerned that Resolute’s intent is to demolish the Fort Frances mill for this purpose," he said.

"This is unfair, and an affront to our understanding of the treaty. A single business deal cannot be allowed to undermine First Nations’ place in the economy and governance of our territory. The timing of these events is unsettling. Resolute appears to be working to eliminate its Fort Frances mill before the Enhanced Sustainable Forest License system is in place for the Crossroute, which provides a formal voice for First Nations and other communities in the management of their forest."

Hopes were heightened prior to Christmas when a consortium of investors expressed interest in reviving the mill, but Resolute maintains they won't deal with any party unless a non-disclosure agreement is signed.

Under threat of litigation from Resolute, the town council passed a resolution on Feb. 25 petitioning the company to make the mill bidding process more transparent and implored Premier Doug Ford to step in to ensure the mill stays "open for business," to allow for a potential new site owner to have access to nearby Crown fibre, and to bring back manufacturing jobs to Fort Frances.