The decision comes after decades of lawsuits and peaceful protests by the people of Grassy Narrows, including the longest standing logging blockade in North America.
The tribal actions were taken in an effort to protect the 2,500 square miles of forests, lakes and rivers north of Kenora, Ontario that comprises Grassy Narrows traditional territory.
Last October, AbitibiBowater was formed as a merger of Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. of Quebec and Bowater Incorporated of South Carolina.
AbitibiBowater is the third largest publicly traded paper and forest products company in North America and the eighth largest in the world.
It is in the fresh approach made possible by the merger that led to this decision, AbitibiBowater CEO David Paterson wrote in a letter to Ontario’s Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield.
"The flexibility of a newly merged company, paired with the current context of an industry that gives access to unused fibre, allow us to temporarily find alternative wood supply for our operations," he wrote.
Rainforest Action Network, RAN, a San Francisco-based conservation advocacy group, praised the company's decision.
Clearcut at Grassy Narrows (Photo courtesy Amnesty International Canada)
In February, following a RAN day of action, Boise agreed to suspend its contract unless community consent could be established. AbitibiBowater’s withdrawal will also force primary customer Weyerhaeuser to stop sourcing wood from the area, RAN believes.
"We are thrilled for the Grassy Narrows community that their forests, which are key to their livelihood and culture, will no longer be clear-cut against their wishes," said David Sone of RAN’s Old Growth Campaign.
"Grassy Narrows has scored a major step forward for Indigenous rights," he said. "We’re calling on all companies to follow suit and respect the rights of Indigenous peoples to give or withhold consent for industrial projects on their traditional territories."
RAN is calling on Abitibi to extend this precedent across its global operations, to respect human rights, and to value the role of intact forests in providing climate stability and clean water.
The Canadian constitution and international law affirm First Nations’ rights to provide or withhold consent for industrial projects on their lands. But Ontario’s mining and logging laws continue to permit resource extraction companies to operate without the consent of First Nations.
On May 29, Indigenous groups in Toronto marched and camped on the front lawn of the Ontario legislature with a coalition of labor, student and faith-based groups to protest this law.
There is evidence that the Ontario government of Premier Dalton McGuinty is listening to the Grassy Narrows First Nation. On May 12, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources issued a statement saying that the two governments - the tribal and the provincial - are starting new talks on forest management.
Ontario Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield and Chief Simon Fobister signed a Memorandum of Understanding at Grassy Narrows First Nation to create "a positive, long-term relationship between the First Nation and the province."
"This agreement is a significant advance towards a new and positive relationship with Grassy Narrows that is sustained by mutual respect and leads to improved opportunities and a brighter future for the people of Grassy Narrows," said Cansfield.
The breakthrough follows six months of discussions between Grassy Narrows First Nation and former Canada Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, who was retained to advise Minister Cansfield.
Justice Iacobucci said he believes that both parties "can move forward based on the principles of mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual participation and mutual accountability."
"The McGuinty government is forging a new relationship with Grassy Narrows First Nation," said Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Michael Bryant. "This agreement builds upon our commitment to strengthen relationships with all of Ontario's First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.