Skeena Cellulose reduxxx

From Doman to Skeena Cellulose (bankruptcies), and Canfor-Slocan to Lignum-Riverside (mergers), it’s hard to keep up with the real news in the forest industry these days.

The mainstream media don’t help matters much, by providing sporadic and disappointingly blinkered coverage–rated G, for Good for business (as usual). The Dogwood Bulletin will have more on the mergers in coming weeks, as First Nations begin to assert their Aboriginal Rights and Title and demand the involvement the law requires but the government is avoiding. And over the next few days, we’ll provide more context about the Doman and Skeena bankruptcy processes.

Today’s Vancouver Sun story about “New Skeena Forest Products”–the flightless corporate phoenix trying to rise from the smoldering rubble of Skeena Cellulose–paraphrases the bankruptcy judge: “it’s in the interest of the broader community to restructure New Skeena and return it to full operation.

That is certainly so, but it’s also in the interest of the community to see New Skeena operate in the interests of the community. The story doesn’t mention the crucual role of First Nations in this restructing. Indeed, it doesn’t mention First Nations at all, despite their significant win in the Yal case just over one year ago. And a recent ruling supporting First Nations in the bancruptcy action.

This is pretty familiar. A year ago Doman Industries began to ask for delays in its restructuring deals. There was one brief mention in the media of a major reason for delay–First Nations assertions of Rights and Title–but that story dropped off the pages of the papers.

These assertions have caused delay–Doman’s lawyers asked the courts to extend their restructuring deadlines due to the Aboriginal assertions–but Doman continues to avoid grappling substantially with the First Nations’ interests. Indeed, at the same time they were asking the court for more time, Doman was writing the First Nations, saying they had no reason to consult with them.

And a few weeks ago -again with virtually no press coverage- the bancrupcy process confirmed Doman’s obligations to the Quatsino First Nations whose territory they operate in.

If all your news comes from Canwest Global, you’d think the only reason Doman and, now, Skeena Cellulose, keep getting extensions is to allow them more time to get all necessary funders. There is more to it than that. There are fundamental questions of who owns the land; of who has jurisdiction to decide how the land is to be used.

The companies and the B.C. government continue to try to avoid these questions, holding out as long as they can, hoping that some misnamed “accommodation and revenue sharing” agreements might satisfy the First Nations enough to withdraw their objections.

While the money attached to these forestry agreements–which the Ministry of Forests is pushing very hard–are tempting to First Nations in dire financial straits, the agreements are no long-term solution. They are unlikely to let Doman, Skeena, and other companies off the hook.

Strategic work by First Nations across the Province, through individual initiatives and the new Title and Rights Alliance, should make this the year in which those basic questions of jurisdiction to make resource decisions gain prominence in the media.

This ought to be a year of reckoning for logging and other resource companies who’ve tried to pretend that nothing has changed in their industry since the good ol’ 1950s, and the government and media who support that outdated notion.

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