Japanese NEWSWEEK Article on Lubicon

Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
Little Buffalo Lake, AB
FAX: 403-629-3939

Mailing address:
3536 - 106 Street
Edmonton, AB T6J 1A4
FAX: 403-437-0719

February 6, 1992

Enclosed for your information is a copy of an article on the Lubicons which appeared in the January 30, 1992, edition of the Japanese Newsweek. Enclosed also is an English translation of the article.

English Translation of article appearing in January 30, 1992, edition of Japanese NEWSWEEK


For hundreds of years, the Lubicon Cree Indians have lived in their native forest, hunted moose and serenely listened to the spirits of nature in Canada's northern Alberta. But by the mid-80s, oil exploration had drastically reduced their hunts and driven the people into poverty. Now, they are bracing for another blow, this time from Japan. A Canadian subsidiary of Daishowa Paper Mfg. Co. is poised to begin clear-cut logging in the Lubicons' 10,000 square kilometre land at any moment. Bernard Ominayak, Chief of the Lubicons, led his delegation to Japan this autumn to protest the plan. But their request for a meeting was turned down by the company headquarters. "They will take all of our trees," says Ominayak. "If I were a Japanese living in Japan, how would I want to see a Japanese company go and make such destruction anyplace if we don't want it here?"

In the eyes of the world, the answer is apparently "Japanese don't care." Fairly or unfairly, Japan, with its enormous appetite for tropical timber, has already been held responsible for severe rainforest destruction and confrontations with aborigines from Malaysia to Papua New Guinea. Now the phenomenon is spreading north. With resources in the south running short, Japan, with meets about 70 percent of its total timber demand with imports, has been diversifying its supply sources around the world.

But the search for supplies threatens to stir up a new storm of environmental protests. When a typhoon ravaged the Philippines last November, local newspapers reported that Japanese interests were involved in the heavy logging that accelerated run-off and disastrous flash floods. Sarawak, a major exporter to Japan, is predicted to have only a few trees left in five years. Now even people in Siberia and Indochina are expressing concern about potential destruction. As more and more native forests disappear around the world, "Confrontations are happening everywhere," says Uoichi Kuroda, coordinator of the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN).

Daishowa is a classic war story from the new northern front. The Lubicons have been fighting with the Canadian government over the ownership of their land for years. Daishowa walked into the squabble when it bought logging rights from the Alberta Government in an area the Lubicons claim as unceded territory. The dispute has complicated Daishowa's plan but did give the company a convenient excuse for not seeking the delegation. "The issue should be settled between the Lubicons and the governments," the firm said in a written statement.

The Lubicons could be just the tip of the iceberg. Last July, during a Tokyo meeting of Dietmen on the international environment, Soviet conservationists unofficially asked JATAN's Kuroda to exchange information to help save forests in Siberia. In October, non-governmental organizations and journalists at a World Bank general meeting in Bangkok expressed concerns about destruction on the Indochinese mainland, where Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are counting Japanese logging interests in their quest for hard currency.

The pressure can only increase. Next year, Japan and the Soviet Union will start their fourth Siberia forest development project, with Japan getting six million cubic meters of logs over five years. In return, Japan will provide machinery which Soviet loggers will use to cut deep into virgin forests. Over the past 30 years, conifers easily accessible by rivers, railways and roads have already been cut down. "The phenomenon is the same as in America and Southeast Asia," says Kazumitsu Yamaguchi, deputy senior general manager of Nichimen Corporation lumber division. "Loggers have to go farther into the forests."

Of course, logging cannot simply be labelled evil. The issue reflects the so-called north-south economic gap. "To simply cry not to cut down trees will not solve the problem," argues Kanemi Matsuki, executive director of the Japan Lumber Importers' Association. Indeed it takes two sides to tango. Some governments, mainly in the third word, are so dependent on revenues from timber trading that they will put up with environmental destruction. Be it in Sarawak or Alberta, the Japanese government and private companies say they can't interfere in other countries' internal affairs.

Yet, there are some things Japan can do. "The problem with Siberia is that nothing's done after trees are cut down," says Tohoku University President Junichi Nishizawa, who led an academics' mission to the Soviet Far East last summer to seek ways for Japan to help sustainable development of trees and other natural resources there. To protect rainforests, which are hard to restore, many cities in the U.S. and Europe, including San Francisco and New York City, have already banned the use of tropical timber for public construction. No Japanese cities have yet followed suit. If Japan continues to fail to see the forest for the trees, there may be no forests left at all.

Keiko Kambara for NWJ.