The Barriere Lake Trilateral Agreement
by Claudia Notzke, University of Lethbridge
Notzke, Claudia. 1993. The Barriere Lake Trilateral Agreement. November. Barriere Lake Indian Government, 98 pp. + 5 maps.
[Original pagination indicated within slash marks at end of page, e.g. /3/]
The 1980s and 1990s have been witnessing a redefinition of the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, and as part of it, a restructuring of power and responsibility with regard to natural resources. Co-management, joint management or joint stewardship regimes have been the most tangible result of these changed parameters. These innovative management regimes integrate local and state management systems, allocate control of resources among competing interests and facilitate the merging of knowledge. They have been established in all parts of Canada under different circumstances and for different purposes.
The Barriere Lake Trilateral Agreement of northern Quebec is more than just another variation on this increasingly familiar theme. It constitutes a category of its own and is unmatched in its vision as well as in the problems its proponents have had to overcome. This Agreement was designed to address a situation, where a small aboriginal community, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake in La Verendrye Park, pursing an essentially land-based way of life, saw themselves confronted with aggressive resource exploitation in their traditional use area, in the form of logging, recreational hunting, and hydroelectric development. This situation is embedded in a political framework of non-recognition of treaty and aboriginal rights, centralized decision-making with regard to land and resource use planning, and a strong emphasis on extractive resource utilization.
The Barriere Lake Trilateral Agreement was signed on August 22, 1991, by the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, the government of Quebec, and the government of Canada. It owes its existence exclusively to the initiative of the Algonquins. Their rationale for pursuing it was not an assertion of their aboriginal rights, but rather the realization of integrated resource management which would take the needs of their subsistence economy into account. An integral part /5/ of the Agreement, the Algonquins propose a model of "sustainable development", patterned after concepts of the 1987 Brundtland Report by the World Commission on Environment and Development. This report advocates an approach to development, where economic growth "must be based on policies that sustain and expand the environmental resource base." (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987:1). The report also acknowledges that aboriginal peoples have a singular role to play in this process.
The Barriere Lake Trilateral Agreement is not a co-management agreement in the sense that it immediately effects the establishment of co-management institutions and co-management procedures, concerned with the joint management of a particular species or area. Rather it is designed to lay the groundwork for the cooperative development of an integrated resource management plan for a region comprising 1 million hectares, the major portion of the traditional use area of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. Several major tasks are involved:
- design and implementation of interim protection measures for the
duration of the Agreement;
- analysis and evaluation of existing data and information, and
compilation of new inventories and information on renewable resource
use, potential, impacts and interaction of activities related to their
exploitation and development within the perimeter of the Agreement
- based on the above, the preparation of a draft integrated management
plan for renewable resources (by December 1994); and
- the formulation of recommendations for the carrying out of the draft
integrated resource management plan.
For almost two years of the Agreement's implementation, the Algonquins and their team struggled against overwhelming odds to make the trilateral process work. While the problems were /6/ numerous, most of them stemmed from the basic question, just what kind of management regime would prevail in the territory during the implementation of the Agreement. Quebec viewed its resource management regime as sacrosanct, with no room for compromise. While the provincial government acknowledged that the Agreement was "a process for change", it nevertheless insisted that the Agreement be implemented within the rigid confines of existing laws and regulations. This insistence created a crisis from the very beginning, resulted in overt non-compliance on the part of Quebec with the terms of the Agreement, made effective protection of the territory's resources impossible, and created a hostile climate between the Algonquins, industry and government. After futile mediation efforts on the part of Quebec Superior Court Judge Rejean Paul, and unilateral suspension of the Agreement by Quebec in February 1993, the trilateral process seemed on the brink of collapse.
Spring 1993, however, featured a surprising turn of events. A combination of factors, including an effective Algonquin public relations campaign, top level political communication, intensified contacts between the Algonquins and industry, and the prospect of rather unpalatable alternatives, prompted the provincial government to consent to the Algonquins' requests. Virtually overnight, a special interim management regime was established for the Agreement territory, belatedly creating a setting in which the Barriere Lake Trilateral Agreement can be successfully implemented.
Taking stock after over two years, we can conclude that the Agreement has accomplished much, notwithstanding its extremely unpromising beginnings. An impressive amount of work was completed even under the initial unfavourable conditions, and much progress has been made in 1993. An effective interim management regime for the Agreement territory is being implemented which allows the Algonquins protection of their resources and a share in resource-related rights and responsibilities. They also seem to be succeeding /7/ in creating a climate and certain groundrules for the joint management of renewable resources in the future.
Throughout 1994, the Algonquins and Quebec will have to focus much of their effort on the preparation of an integrated resource management plan for the Agreement territory. Afterwards, during the implementation phase of this joint plan, much will depend on whether Quebec will eventually be prepared to participate in something akin to co-management of natural resources.
Eventually, the Barriere Lake Trilateral Agreement will be judged in the light of its long-term accomplishments. Prior to 1995, nobody will know whether its goal of integrated resource management and sustainable development will be realized. What we can judge today, however, is its approach to joint resource management, and its vision. Not infrequently, co-management regimes are embarked upon without the funds, database, collective political will and foresight necessary to make a regime work. This is particularly the case for some initiatives that take place outside the claims process, and are motivated by a crisis or government policy. In contrast, the Trilateral Agreement provides for the time, the funding, and the organizational infrastructure to create a database, a plan and a "mindset" among all participants, to make a future partnership in resource management work.
And in this age of environmental crisis there can be no disputing the validity of a vision of environmental management, which reflects respect for all elements of nature and for all its human stakeholders. /8/