QUEBEC – Forestry operations in Quebec’s Mauricie region were disrupted when aboriginal protesters blocked a railway line and logging road Wednesday.
The Atikamekw band said they have a long list of complaints against the Kruger forestry company, which they accuse of operating without their consent and consultation.
Native Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley told a news conference that Quebec government officials are trying to get the blockade lifted through negotiations.
“I think we can find solutions at the table,” he said before the weekly cabinet meeting in Quebec City.
“We’ll talk with them today to try and find a solution because a blockade is never good news for Quebec.”
One barrier was erected on Highway 25 between La Tuque and Wemotaci, and another between the hamlets of Parent and Clova.
While trucks carrying timber were being stopped, area residents and tourists were still allowed through the barricades.
The aboriginals have also said they’ll allow Via Rail passenger trains through but have threatened to block Canadian National Railway trains carrying freight.
Kelley said the demonstrators’ demands are numerous and complex. Some relate to federal land claims negotiations and others to infrastructure funding.
“There are elements that fall in Quebec’s jurisdiction and we are ready to sit down with the community and the Atikamekw nation to see if there are things that can be resolved bilaterally,” said Kelley, who last met with Wemotaci and Obedjiwan community leaders about 10 days ago.
Julie Boulet, the minister responsible for the region, expressed concern for the economy of the area, saying local workers “had been taken hostage.”
“It is deplorable to do this,” she said. “There are manufacturers, sawmills, workers who are involved. Blocking timber transport by road or by rail, it’s not a good way to negotiate.”
The company, Kruger, said it would not comment.
But Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said his department is tracking the situation, which he called “worrying.”
“There are concerns and we are watching the situation closely,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen but we know there is a lot of tension.”