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In the Boreal Forest, A Developing Storm

Rabliauskas walks around the tepee, closer to the banks of the lake.

"It has happened in the past. Developers came in and destroyed land. It hasn't improved the community at all. I think we have to ask for help. We are a small group of people. Sometimes, it's overwhelming going up against major developers who have money. We will do what we can to protect the land. We will do anything."

Ernest C. Bruce, manager of the Poplar River nation and nephew of Victor Bruce, says the band is constantly being hit with proposals for development, tourism, ideas from the south to turn the land into money.

"We are afraid of the damage. One community allowed eco-tourism and the Americans came in and didn't respect the land. They hunted the moose and took the heads for trophies and left the bodies. That's against nature," Ernest Bruce says.

Other companies, he says, come in and brought with them cigarettes and alcohol and offers of jobs. "Like there was a paper mill company that came in and met with the community and promised employment in exchange for clear-cutting and promised a road. Manitoba Hydro promised employment. We've always said no to them."

Even though the community needs jobs. Only 15 percent of the 1,000 people or more in the Poplar River community work. The rest live on fixed income and social insurance.

"Some people get excited about the promise for jobs," Bruce says. "But the elders express concern. 'Are we willing to sacrifice for something short-term?' Money is only something you can hold, spend and it's gone. But the land will be here."

The Divinity of the Wild

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a senior attorney with the NRDC, has come to this camp to help save the boreal.

"The wilderness connects us with generations," he says. "We experience the divine most forcefully when we are in the wilderness. All the Koran's prophets were shepherds who came out of the deserts. The central epiphany in the tradition of mankind has occurred in the wilderness. Mohammed wrestled the camel. Moses had to go to the wilderness to get the Commandments. Christ had to go into the wilderness to discover divinity. In every religious tradition, they all instruct us to study nature, to learn God's message."

The fire in the middle of the camp is burning. The elders are listening. The sage is simmering.

"When we destroy the last areas of wilderness, we cut ourselves off from the source of identity," says Kennedy. "When we destroy those things, it is the equivalent of tearing the last pages out of the Bible. We better hold some places in reserve to show our children."

J.P. Gladu, an aboriginal outreach coordinator for the Canadian Boreal Initiative, is on this trip, too. He is explaining that last year a coalition of energy and forest companies joined First Nation tribes and environmental groups in an agreement to preserve at least 50 percent of the boreal. The other half would be developed in an environmentally sustainable method, carefully.

"Big corporations are pretty powerful. The current model is to get bigger," Gladu says. "But economically, the world needs resources. Unless people's minds shift, it won't stop. People consume. People consume. Until we change that, I don't think it will stop.

Gladu says that for some, the union of environmentalists, First Nation and corporations is dangerous.

"It's like the story of the scorpion and the fox. The scorpion and fox need each other to get to the other side of the river," Gladu says. "The fox says, 'I'm not going to give you a ride. You will sting me.'

"The scorpion says, 'Why would I sting you? We will both drown.'

"The fox gives him a ride and halfway across, the scorpion stings the fox.

"The fox says, 'Why did you do that?'

"The scorpion says, 'It's in my nature.' "

Ernest C. Bruce is standing by the lake. The water is lapping. The trees are swaying. Night is coming. The hill over there, Bruce is saying, is Thunder Mountain. "They say that is where the thunderbird lives. When in the past people traveled through the land, they traveled silently. If they woke the Thunderbird, there would be thunderstorms and lightning."

Somewhere out there, a night bird cries.

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