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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

To learn and adapt

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Sep 9, 2023

These past months, I couldn’t stop thinking about the impacts the forest fires have had on wildlife. Many of the animals we harvest have offspring during the summer and we haven’t been able to measure the losses these species suffered this season. With Moose Break fast approaching, I wonder how we’re going to collectively manage harvests in the near future.

Many people lost their camps and large portions of their traplines, and I assume it’s going to create more traffic on other traplines this fall. Yes, we have the inherent right to harvest game on our land, a right that is recognized under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. But we still need to maintain sustainable harvests to keep animal populations healthy, while defining mechanisms of accountability for those who engage in harmful practices.

It will be hard to quickly assess the damages to various wild populations or to create an efficient contingency plan. We will likely learn more as we return to the land to harvest and then adapt our practices from there. 

However, our land and its wildlife have undergone drastic changes during the past decades because of resource extraction. And I wonder how resilient they will be after a hot summer plagued by huge forest fires.

The moose population was already starting to drop in certain areas. Last year, we had a delicate situation with Zone 17 where non-Natives were not allowed to harvest because the population was too low to accommodate everyone, and the Cree have priority. 

This caused a lot of conflict between inland communities and non-Native municipalities, and it fueled an already existing feeling of racist resentment towards our communities. Some individuals threatened to burn Cree camps and there were numerous threads of racist comments on social media. I fear more conflict will arise from the drastic changes that the land has experienced this summer.

The Cree have always been caribou people, but the damages done by resource exploitation in our region, especially around Waswanipi, has forced my community to stop hunting woodland caribou. 

The loss of a tradition is a loss of knowledge, language and identity. Without caribou to hunt, we started to harvest moose. Sadly, the moose population is now decreasing. I hope we will quickly find ways to protect them so the next generations of Crees can feed their families. 

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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.