The Regional Cree Trappers’ Association (CTA) held a summit on wildlife management and the impacts of resource development in Mistissini August 15-16. Hunters, fishers, trappers and members of the Cree community gathered for the 2023 Maamuu Uhpikaapuutaau summit. Throughout the event, speakers discussed the tactics used in Eeyou Istchee to look after land, bodies of water and ecology.
This event, which was specifically focused on inland affairs, gave tallymen the opportunity to express their issues in a grassroots manner. Cree tallymen are tasked with overseeing traditional traplines, which run throughout Eeyou Istchee. For them, land development is a significant source of concern.
Deputy Grand Chief Norman Wapachee said he lived off the land for 10 years, alongside his father. Wapachee said his father felt voiceless in the face of mining and forestry development. As companies carried out exploration of the territory, they ignored the toll it took on the traditional traplines.
Wapachee noted that trappers were “frustrated in not being heard,” which inspired him to advocate for the creation of the summit. While local gatherings of trappers have taken place before, this is the first Cree summit of such size and scope.
Income security, moose harvest, the role of government and the damage from this summer’s forest fires were topics of discussion during the summit’s panels. To many in the community, economic interests have to be balanced with the preservation of the traditional Cree lifestyle. Forestry and mining companies may consult with tallymen, to learn which areas to use for industry, and which territories to safeguard. To be consulted, and to be heard, by industry, is vital to the CTA.
Wapachee explained that the programs promoting traditions encourage “empowerment” rather than “dependence.” He pointed out that in the ancestral way of life, the land provided food and resources. Now, he argues that people have become reliant on external programs. For example, younger people wait for Niskamoon or forestry funds to arrive before venturing into the forest to cut wood. Previous generations would have simply cut the wood as a matter of course.
According to Wapachee, the reliance on programs has created a class system in what was once a more egalitarian society – permanent employees make up an “upper class,” and seasonal workers make up a lower class. His solution is to return to an older mode of living, by encouraging younger generations of Cree to occupy the land.
The summit was attended by Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty, who thanked Dr. Philip Awashish for speaking about governance and the traditional role of the Nituuhuuchimaauch (tallymen). She also thanked Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, who gave the closing remarks.
“I feel like this event provided so much information and direction,” stated Gull-Masty. She added that she looked forward to the next summit session in Chisasibi September 13-14, which will focus on coastal affairs.