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Suspension of moose sports hunt sparks tensions in Cree communities

BY Patrick Quinn Jul 20, 2022

Many across the region expressed disappointment that this year’s sports hunt for moose is suspended in Zone 17. Delivered by Ungava MNA Denis Lamothe, it came as a surprise to the Cree Nation Government, which criticized Quebec’s lack of consultation over potential solutions.

While the CNG had been considering a limited sport hunt for Cree members, Lamothe’s announcement June 30 signalled that alternatives would not be considered by the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP). Lamothe’s Facebook post claimed that a compromise couldn’t be reached with the Cree community of Waswanipi. 

“I was absolutely astonished that the MNA would take it upon himself to announce this decision and to further blame one of the communities for not having consented,” responded Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty. “He had never been part of the Cree dialogue – I don’t think he even spoke to local leadership. That is completely colonialist behaviour – he made a huge mistake.”

The CNG said such a policy change should go through the government’s Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Coordinating Committee (HFTCC), which protects Indigenous harvesting rights in the region and acts as an advisory board to federal and provincial governments. 

After an aerial survey last year revealed a dwindling moose population in Zone 17, the HFTCC allocated a harvest limit of 104 moose entirely to the Cree, according to guaranteed levels stipulated in the JBNQA. Zone 17 includes traplines of Ouje-Bougoumou, Waskaganish and Waswanipi, as well as the towns of Chibougamau, Chapais, Matagami and Lebel-sur-Quévillon. 

Although the CNG had raised concerns about moose numbers for many years, it was only after resolving to independently undertake a survey that Quebec became involved. While the MFWP had reportedly received preliminary data in June, 2021, the Cree Nation didn’t receive the preliminary results until September 9. 

“We were displeased that we paid 50% for this aerial survey and the results prepared in mid-summer were not provided to the Cree Nation until the fall,” Gull-Masty told the Nation. “I hate to say but I think there was an intention to keep that area open [for last fall’s hunting season]. From the get-go we were really concerned but we acted in good faith.”

While the Cree Trappers’ Association passed a resolution last September calling for a moratorium on sports hunting, the CNG conducted extensive consultations over the past five months to explore measures to mitigate the issue and the feasibility of sharing a portion of its allocation.

Although a majority of Waswanipi tallymen supported a strict ban on sports hunting, members of Ouje-Bougoumou generally expressed openness to inviting Jamesien hunters into part of Zone 17 for a trial period to encourage a better understanding of Cree traditional practices. However, Gull-Masty said that Quebec rejected this offer due to supposed security concerns.

“I think they were really ignorant of the process and dismissive of the possibility to work together,” asserted Gull-Masty. “Unfortunately, their decision perpetuates the gap between the Cree Nation and the Jamesiens. The fact we even explored this process speaks to the importance of relationship building.”

As numerous Jamesien residents voiced complaints on social media, Gull-Masty sees common misconceptions about Cree harvesting and traditional wildlife-monitoring practices. She affirmed that Cree are subsistence hunters and that these constitutionally protected rights are necessary to maintain the Cree way of life.

During three consultation sessions, communities identified factors impacting the moose population and habitat – including pressure from development, forestry and mining activities; insufficient monitoring; and a lack of surveillance in the territory. Tallymen recommended limiting hunting to certain periods and traplines, promoting traditional hunting methods and using all of the harvested animals. 

Harvesting guidelines and a moose conservation plan will continue to be developed through a moose management committee. The Grand Chief also hopes to launch an awareness campaign for Jamesian hunters to better understand Cree priorities and key issues related to helping moose numbers rebound. 

“I’m certain the Jamesiens know that forestry practices are detrimental to wildlife habitat,” said Gull-Masty. “I think they care about the wildlife population in this region as much as we do and that we need to take measures to protect it. We are going to manage moose conservation – we were the ones who alerted Quebec there was an issue.”

As the CNG works with concerned communities to regenerate the moose population, it is also developing a united approach to addressing one of the biggest impacts to its habitat – forestry. On June 2, Gull-Masty signed the Aah Nuutaahtikwaaniwich Nisituhtimuwin Memorandum of Understanding with Chiefs Clarence Jolly (Nemaska), Clarke Shecapio (Waskaganish), Curtis Bosum (Ouje), Thomas Neeposh (Mistissini) and Marcel Happyjack (Waswanipi). 

“The moose population decline is a reminder that there is an imbalance in wildlife because of the impact of forestry practices driven by Quebec,” Gull-Masty said. “There has historically been a very individual community-driven approach to forestry, but every community was facing the challenge to do something productive and also talking about the impacts on the territory.”

With these communities, the CNG intends to create a “Cree Leadership Forestry Table” to enhance employment opportunities for youth and local entrepreneurs. Land users had felt the existing process could be better managed and wanted to have discussions about both the industry’s impacts and potential benefits.

“We’re incorporating mechanisms that contribute balance to our way of life,” explained Gull-Masty. “Forestry is not our only resource. It’s about ensuring best practices for sustainable development, working with local leadership to establish a regional economic plan.”

But the Grand Chief emphasized the Cree Nation’s intention to manage moose conservation in the territory according to Cree values and traditional knowledge.   

“Traditional knowledge is able to identify quicker than biologists when there is an imbalance in the system of wildlife and habitat in the Cree territory,” Gull-Masty asserted. “Because there is a moratorium for five years, we’re going to take the time we need to make a proper plan in the best interests of the wildlife species, the habitat and most importantly, our Cree way of life.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.