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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Our beds are burning

BY Will Nicholls Oct 18, 2023

It is with delight we see that the Cree Nation Government, Cree Trappers’ Association, communities and other entities will create a “Cree Cabin Damage Assessment Registry.” Cree land users will be asked to fill out a form by November 1 to describe the damage the fires have caused to their camps. 

We all know that some camps can have as many 10 cabins, though in some perhaps only one is insured. According to the CNG, only 262 cabins in Eeyou Istchee are insured. We can’t even guess how many aren’t covered by insurance. Let’s hope the 10-cabin example wasn’t the norm. There are also cultural camps that were affected and the losses there were high both in material and heritage items. 

If you have a camp, don’t forget to fill out a form. Call your CTA office, band office, or the CNG. Or simply go online and search for it yourself.

Many memories and heirlooms were lost but we live on as a survival-oriented culture. It is welcome to see that our leadership understands this. The Cree way of life includes taking care of each other in hard times such as this summer.

Despite this, the Quebec government is patting itself on the back for sending firefighters to help in the west while our beds were burning. The inability of CAQ Premier François Legault to prioritize fighting the inferno that blazed through Cree lands in northern Quebec is sad. Not concentrating on the four million hectares that went up in flames in Eeyou Istchee reflects how this government views the regions that Quebec was gifted by the federal government under the 1898 and 1912 Boundaries Extension Acts.

The law wasn’t respected in the first place as Quebec began building the La Grande Complex without first obtaining the consent of the Indigenous population living there. This affected the Cree and the Inuit, but those matters are seen as being mostly resolved. 

The claims of Algonquins and other Indigenous nations within the boundaries of an extended Quebec have not been resolved but that’s another issue that they are dealing with as best they can. We know they have had similar experiences and appreciate how they reached out to us in so many ways especially during the evacuations. 

Many Cree are dealing with the wildfires and Quebec’s response with anger, disappointment and hope. Help may come for some, but Quebec ignores one very important thing, and that is the Cree connection to the land. We are part of it as much as the animals and plants. That is why “our beds are burning” refers to more than people losing or being dispossessed of their homes – as the band Midnight Oil sang of 35 years ago in its anthem about Aboriginal Australians. 

I use it here to refer to Eeyou Istchee and all its inhabitants, human or not, including the land itself. If Quebec can’t prioritize the worst of the natural disasters on territories it obtained relatively recently and which it loves to exploit for its natural resources, then it does not have effective control of Eeyou Istchee. 

If Quebec cannot handle the heat of the wildfires in Eeyou Istchee, then it should follow the advice in the Midnight Oil song: “A fact’s a fact. It belongs to them. Let’s give it back.”

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.