Twenty employees have been permanently laid off by Thessalon-based Midway Lumber Ltd.
Thessalon is located about an hour's drive east of Sault Ste. Marie.
USW Local 9260 president Scott Dunlop – who was one of the Midway Lumber employees laid off last week – told SooToday that he was hopeful an interim deal would get done that would see the moratorium on cutting in Kirkwood Forest lifted.
The moratorium on cutting in the Crown forest was originally put in place as a result of an ongoing land claim that was filed by Thessalon First Nation in the mid-to late-'90s.
Dunlop said that he had assurances from Premier Doug Ford, Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski and Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford that an interim deal lifting the moratorium would be reached.
“We were in the midst of doing an interim deal,” said Dunlop. “We had assurances and agreements that both parties, the province and the First Nation’s lawyers would seek to get together and work on possibly getting an interim deal set before anything else.”
“Unfortunately, though, that’s not going to save us. I’m hoping that they’re going to follow through with it – I’m going to stay on them,” he continued. “We had commitments from the premier. [Doug] Ford was very concerned about it, so he’s got his ministers working on it, but, unfortunately for us, it’s not going to come quick enough.”
Dunlop said there’s pressure on the province and the First Nation to get the interim deal done before working on a final deal, which would be included in the province’s 2020-2030 Forestry Management Plan.
The union president worries that recent layoffs could ignite racial tensions between people in Thessalon and neighbouring Thessalon First Nation.
“Hopefully this won’t drag out too long, because we’re concerned how communities will get together and how they will work together with this hanging over our heads,” said Dunlop.
“In other instances around the country, it’s never a good thing to have this type of animosity between [the] two communities, even though it’s nobody’s fault – it’s just a matter of getting together and making a deal.”
“Unfortunately, as time goes by, people get...when people start losing the ability to pay their bills and lose cars and lose homes...sometimes their anger and their frustration gets pointed in the wrong direction, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid here,” he continued. “It’s not a First Nations issue. It’s a matter of working it out with the government – the way it should have been a long time ago.”
According to the Thessalon First Nation website, a ‘crucial mistake in translation’ led to the community receiving vastly less land than it had anticipated:
The Crown's Treaty Commissioner, William Robinson, promised that we could retain, for our own use and benefit, reasonable reservations. Unfortunately, the man he employed to write the description of the reservations in the Treaty document made a crucial mistake in translation. The Chiefs used the Ojibway word tibadagun to mean a "league"; he translated the word as a "mile" and a league is about three miles long. As a result, the reservations described in the treaty document were about one-ninth the size the Chiefs intended. We know this partly because in 1852, when the survey of the Thessalon reservation was done, the same man acknowledged his mistake in his survey diary, and so did the surveyor.
The lakeshore boundary of the reservation was "adjusted" to take in our essential fishing village and maple sugar bush about ten miles instead of the four miles described in the treaty document. But a second survey team was apparently not told about the problem, and the inland boundaries of the reservation are only four miles long, instead of the twelve miles that a survey in leagues would have produced. The Government of Canada has accepted our boundary claim for negotiation, and talks are proceeding. The Government of Ontario has not.
Paul Williams, lead negotiator for Thessalon First Nation, was not immediately available for comment.
SooToday has yet to receive a response from the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.
Meanwhile, Dunlop said that USW Local 9260 may eventually have to amalgamate with another union due to dwindling membership, but said that he’ll still try to do what he can in order to get the province and First Nation to reach an interim deal to have the cutting moratorium lifted.
“I’m at the point where I’ve got my own issues to look after, too, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do what I can for what’s going on here in town,” said Dunlop. “It’s not just a treaties issue, it’s a community issue.”