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Cree-Innu reaffirm caribou harvesting agreement

BY Joshua Janke Feb 26, 2024

Leaders of the Cree and Innu Nations met in a summit meeting in Chisasibi in late January to renew the “Common understanding of Nation-to-Nation on Atiku (caribou)” – an agreement that allows the Innu Nation to hunt a total of 50 caribou from the Leaf River herd this year. Summit speakers said the agreement prioritizes food security and the maintenance of traditional land practices such as a safe caribou harvest. 

According to a press release issued after the summit, “The harvest has been limited to 50 this year to ensure resource preservation and to alleviate the potential impacts of the 2023 forest fires on the herd. Although this number may seem modest, it reflects our continued commitment to maintaining relationships based on mutual respect, good faith and collaboration. These 50 caribou hold particular significance which will be prioritized for Elders and contributing to knowledge sharing with the younger generation.” 

The summit discussion emphasized the massive impacts forest fires had on Cree hunters and harvesters. Chisasibi Chief Daisy House called for understanding in these times of recovery.

“We commit to maintaining our relationship based on trust and cooperation and recognize the vital role of caribou for the Innu while ensuring the recovery and well-being of the caribou population,” said House.

Cree and Innu tallymen, House noted, have reiterated the need to respect the hunting community while giving a “voice to the caribou” when making these mutual hunting agreements. 

“With empathy and unity, we must offer the caribou the opportunity to recover and adapt, especially amid growing climate challenges,” she said. 

Cree Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty underlined the benefits of caribou hunting, which she said remains vital to both Cree and Innu. “We do not want to lose the cultural practices of hunting,” she said, “and everything that goes along with that – the preparation of the meat, the preparation of the hide – all of these things are important cultural knowledge that has to be transferred to youth.

“Ongoing dialogue and cooperation reaffirm our commitment to fostering a resilient and enduring relationship of mutual understanding and shared goals,” she concluded.  

Chief Mike McKenzie of the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-utenam agreed, saying that the Innu-to-Cree relationship is a generational connection that he is proud to continue. 

“A political nation-to-nation protocol to strengthen our relations reflects what we have always been, two sovereign nations on our territories,” McKenzie said. “As our ancestors have always done and taught us, we demonstrate our values of mutual aid, sharing and respect, and we intend to affirm it through this historic protocol.”

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Joshua Janke lives in Montreal and is studying English Literature at Mcgill University. He is passionate about writing, social justice, and creating art.