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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Grieving the land

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Jul 19, 2023

It wasn’t easy watching our territory burn while I had to stay indoors because the heavy smoke was a tough experience. Like many, I felt hopeless while frantically looking at the forest-fire maps online to see how they were progressing. 

The smoke got so bad during an extended period that I had to go get Ventolin puffers at the clinic even though I am not asthmatic. The physical symptoms I developed were somehow more manageable than the grief I still experience from witnessing such a big natural disaster unfold.

I have grieved the Land many times in my life because of resource extraction and theft. The forest fires in our region and across Canada this year add another layer to this grief. While forest fires are a completely natural occurrence, having so many big fires raging simultaneously isn’t. 

More than 1,25 million hectares burned since June, roughly 1-2% of Quebec’s forests. The scientific community warns that fires of this magnitude will happen more often because of climate change and, unfortunately, the North gets warmer faster than the South in this climate crisis.

If scientists are right and this keeps happening more often, it will cost our communities and their members a lot. Emergency responses are expensive both for the administration and the people. Many families lost their camps and other expensive belongings. Meanwhile, insurance is likely going to get much more expensive. 

I also hear a lot of people saying that this will all grow back in a few years, but studies show that forests don’t regenerate as well as they usually do after fires of this magnitude.

Massive resource extraction is known to contribute to climate change. Year after year, federal and provincial governments keep missing their targets to address the climate crisis. In the next few years, it will be important to hold them accountable for their inaction and neglect in environmental files, not only in terms of resource extraction but also the impacts of climate change in the North.

I find it heartbreaking that the Quebec government displaced my family from our land to put my relatives in residential schools. Now we are displaced because of natural disasters caused by the same institutions. 

It is heartbreaking for us youth who might have to deal with this more often in the future. The uncertainty in which young people live in nowadays is hard to cope with. Watching everything burn made my ecoanxiety much more tangible and distressing. 

For now, I rest and try to recuperate. But the only way I will have to cope with that anxiety in the future will be to fight harder for the Land.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.