“Less and less, the birds sang, until one day we heard their beautiful songs no more and our hearts cried out as we hugged our children and told them to pray. Nothing could slow the loggers down.”
Paul Dixon is a hunter and trapper in the Waswanipi Territory. The original version of this document was written in 1987. Since then Paul has modified and updated it. This is the first time it has appeared in print.
The writer of this document has been practicing the Cree traditional way of life, hunting and trapping, for approximately 25 years. During these years I have witnessed our trapline slowly being destroyed. This same trapline was where my grandfather and father taught me how to hunt and respect wildlife.
In the early years, I felt the abundance of wildlife before the land was exploited by forestry operations. Belonging to a large family, our lives were very much attached to the land and dependent on it for most of our needs. Now married with three children and still staying with a large group of family members on our depleted trapline, me and my brothers and our families do not feel safe or confident to carry on that tradition.
In my opinion, if people lose contact with nature, the respect for other life will also be lost. The hunters and their families never realized how forestry operations and other development on their hunting territories would affect their lives and their way of living. For some, this was the beginning of the end. Even though the trappers are the same people who signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, a document supposedly there to protect and enhance their way of life, this has not helped with the situation of their hunting territories.
During the past 35 years, healthy Waswanipi traplines have been slowly disappearing. The logging continues today. One has to be aware that hunters and trappers still out on the land can best monitor the impact of exploitation on wildlife habitat. And now they are crying “foul.”
The public at large must understand and be made aware of forestry impacts on our environment and other users of the land. They must know the fact that somewhere in our comfortable homes, between the walls is a “tree”—taken from out there on the land, we don’t know where. That “tree” was a home or a shelter for another world.
Forestry operations have a very heavy negative impact on the lives of Crees, the land and the wildlife habitat. Large clearcut areas are very devastated as all animals need shelter of trees and vegetation for their safety—especially large animals such as moose, caribou and bear. The periodic cycle movement of large and small animals during the whole year is hindered. Habitats and mating pathways of wildlife established over generations in seclusion are destroyed, which endangers the prospect of future generations of wildlife.
Moose and bear are not plentiful. Ask any native hunter if they killed a moose or a bear during the last hunting season. I am sure most will respond negatively.
Moose yards, if not cut out, are too small. The animal stays fora while and eventually continues on.
Due to logging, moose travel from one patch of forest to another. Therefore, their most dangerous enemies, wolf and man, discovered them much easier, especially during winter.
During winter, moose has difficulty running in logged areas. His chances of survival are greatly reduced. Normally, the animal would run under the tall spruces where snow is very soft if the area had not been cut out. This is one of the reasons why moose will avoid logged out areas. The browse they feed on is destroyed also.
Forestry roads, accessible all year, are being built into large mountain areas. Such areas are the heart of the moose lands where most moose have their winter habitats, playgrounds and mating grounds.
Since more of the traplines are clearcut, we noticed another serious problem arising. Each year, less of the female moose species are pregnant in spring. In our opinion, we hunters and trappers have come to the conclusion that too many of the moose mating grounds are logged out, which are totally different yards from the habitats they use in the wintertime.
It is the feeling of the trappers that the information they provide to loggers for the protection of certain areas for wildlife habitat, especially moose yards, is not used properly. The moose yard would be cut over anyway and this is where we used to get our steady supply of moose meat. It even goes to the point where non-native hunting camps suddenly pop up around these areas that were indicated as moose yards by the trappers.
Naturally with the vast amounts of clearcut areas, our distances of travel for moose are much greater.
During the mating season, moose can be called from any of the access roads. When this happens, the moose travel the forestry roads more often than usual. The moose then become very easy targets. There were situations where we found the insides (intestines) of three moose in the same area, all along the roads. Nobody will argue against someone saying that forestry roads have drastically affected the moose population.
Most animals are killed by chance when crossing or walking on logging roads, such as moose and bear. Also they can be pursued by the many roads, joining together. Escape is not made easy for the large animal.
In logged out areas, most terrain is not walkable by humans because of too many trees laying around and ground badly broken by heavy machinery.
During the winter operations, bear and moose habitats are also destroyed. Moose are forced to scatter. Strip-cutting is done for the sake of window-dressing near or on swamplands, mostly where timber is small. Rarely is strip-cutting done on winter roads. Where strip-cutting was done, timber can be cut any time, mostly for financial reasons for the logging operations.
Because of many access roads, the influx of sports hunters, poachers, non-natives and natives alike has become tremendous. They all overkill. It’s during sports hunting season. We Cree hunters have found animal carcasses along the roads, fish waste and whole pieces of fish on shorelines.
Even the small game, such as rabbit and partridge, is greatly reduced in number.
With access roads being built all over the Cree Territory, other development follows, such as mining exploration and drilling. This also very much disturbs the wildlife habitat. The drilling also leaves oil and garbage in the areas where operations take place.
Predators such as foxes and wolves travel easier and farther on access roads, doing more damage to other wildlife than before.
Because of logging roads, there has been theft of hunting equipment, skidoos, sleds, canoes, tents, outboard motors and such small items as cooking utensils in our once-remote hunting and trapping camps.
Logging roads go right down to the lake or river, with landing spots made for trail or boats—sometimes three or four landing spots on a big lake.
Logging roads are used for landing strips for Cessnas and small-engine planes, especially during moose season.
Due to logging roads, fish spawning areas are disturbed or destroyed. Favourite old spots for bear trapping are disturbed or destroyed also. Roads or culverts get in the way of centuries-old net fishing spots. Culverts on roads are too small. The small culverts become a problem when travelling by canoe. Portaging becomes an unnecessary burden. Due to forestry roads, more fires are also happening.
Also due to these numerous access roads, there have been more roadkills of all sorts of animals, especially the beaver. These kills are made by vehicles, poachers and sports hunters.
Most beaver will build their homes along the roads, using the road as a dam. The beaver becomes an easy target for poachers. The beavers are also considered a nuisance by logging companies. Most hunters and trappers are against beaver relocation projects by logging companies. It has to do with one important factor. The young ones (pups) are not considered in these projects. They are left to die, period.
The survival of any hunting society is based on the preservation of all young ones, or on the rotation from one specimen of animal to another, so certain species can grow (re-populate). Now you can see why the beavers are left alone sometimes. The logging companies’ plan to relocate just adult beavers in spring or early summer leaves the young pups to die. Relocation of beaver families to a foreign area in late summer or in the fall season means they are certainly doomed.
this beautiful animal lives by instinct alone. They will not have time to scout the new area, let alone build a dam, a proper home and gather food for the long winter.
Certain companies’ proposals to eliminate the nuisance beaver (Canada’s symbol on the nickel) and to throw the carcass 50 feet away from any waterway is so outrageous to us Cree hunters and trappers, that we want no part of it at all.
Too many sports hunting camps are built around the logging area because of access roads.
This puts pressure on wildlife, even in remote areas. The logging roads also thaw out too soon in spring while there is still snow everywhere else. This very much affects the hunters and trappers.
Because of no snow on roads, the equipment used such as skidoos and sleds is more prone to faster wear due to the gravel.
Because of logging roads, there is an influx of blueberry pickers doing permanent damage to blueberry bushes with their large scrapers. These same people also poach in the territory.
The rate of killing small game in and around these roads does not match the rate of small game reproducing. Close monitoring by us Cree hunters shows a constant decline in grouse, partridge, hare, etc.
Because of many logging roads over a large area, there are just not enough wildlife conservation officers around to patrol the whole area. We Cree hunters and trappers have witnessed many illegal activities on our traplines due to access roads.
Since forestry operations have started on our traplines, there has been a steady decline in waterfowl coming to land or feed in regular old feed ing grounds where our duck blinds are situated.
We have seen sports hunters and fishermen not disposing their waste or garbage from temporary camp sites. We see the prospect of having a clean environment diminishing if the present situation is not corrected soon enough. The garbage, waste, etc. are also not very good for wildlife.
There are many places where the forest has been cut right down to the shoreline, especially where there was winter cutting. You could only see it while canoeing or skidooing on certain lakes or rivers. There are piles of logs left on roadsides, especially on winter roads. The piles of logs were left there to rot. If you go back there now, the logs would still be there. We Cree hunters feel that government regulations regarding forestry guidelines are not respected when the loggers are cutting. Especially where only winter roads are going.
The logging companies have a knack for leaving trees standing in the right place to make it look less damaging to the eye. Eventually they all get blown over.
What were once navigable rivers are blocked by trees blown over by winds or by careless cutting.
The old temporary hunting camp sites, hunting paths, summer trails, skidoo trails and portages that existed over many generations are all permanently destroyed in one day during logging operations.
Many surrounding areas of low-lying rivers, ponds, lakes and swamps have been destroyed by heavy machines. Such areas were heavily contaminated by oil, which eventually drained into the main lakes or rivers. Many small streams were destroyed completely.
Many feeding plants (vegetation) of different wildlife were destroyed during logging.
There were such experiences as rabbit snares and martin traps, all trampled on by machines during the winter. It is my belief that this was done intentionally, as I am sure the operator of the machine noticed the trail made by snowshoes and slight common sense would have indicated to him to check the area out first before starting operations.
Dump sites of logging camps are left unclean. Paper, plastic bags, etc. are strewn over a large area—old buses, broken down pick-up trucks, old machine parts and tires, metals, big scrap gas tanks, burnt-out mobile shops, plastic oil pails, etc. were left where they were last used.
They are still there today, but the loggers are long gone.
Large sand pits are everywhere—eyesores. Most sand pits are hills so the land keeps eroding around these pits. Burning of waste cutting drives large animals away. Erosion of shorelines will vastly reduce the wildlife population. A lot of unnecessary trees are destroyed during the process of logging, such as birch, poplar, cedar and tamarack—unchecked forestry activities destroying traplines.
Sewage pollution goes to lakes or rivers from logging camps.
After logging operations, scarification of the land destroys all new growth. Only black spruce is planted. There are traplines that have only large lakes or large burnt-out areas, but what little land was available was logged out. Sports hunters, strangers, are shooting near our hunting camps.
Our hunting dogs, which we need and value highly, are killed or stolen when the hunting camp is left alone. (In one such incident, the dog was shot while the hunter was only 25 metres away.)
There is a lot of needless killing of animals. In one incident, a bear was found dead and thrown away. One of the most highly respected animals of the Cree Nation was found at a logging camp dump.
The logging companies have no respect for other users of the land, especially for the native hunters and trappers. In some cases, trappers and hunters were even refused to cut trees for firewood by some logging companies. Because of the lack of communication between the hunters and loggers, wildlife habitats are needlessly destroyed.
Because of vandalism to camps, excessive damage was done to cabins also. In one incident, all windows and doors were stolen The necessity was there for caretakers. Some tallymen and trappers have tried the idea of having caretakers for the cabins. But it was too expensive to carry on and was dropped immediately because of the constant flow of strangers into the land on the logging roads.
There were incidents where non-natives stole the trap and the fur-bearing animal that was caught in the trap. This action just makes life harder for the native who already has a hard time hunting on a depleted trapline. Our nets and catch are stolen most of the time during sports fishing season, or just any other time.
We are finding far less animals in our traps as the surrounding traplines are cut out also. The need to travel a greater distance to hunt and trap for animals is there and realized.
Yes, the province has forestry regulations. But they are not respected by certain companies as we hunters and trappers have found out, living and trying to hunt in the same area where they were cutting. I can only guess that the loggers believed we would never take notice or even write about it one day. We noticed also that amongst the loggers, it was common practice to cut beyond where you were supposed to, because there was more to gain financially even if you have to pay a fine. The fines are too small or the logging company totally ignored the issue (the so-called “forestry regulations”).
Out in the traplines many roads are constructed, but not all roads are indicated on the map. Why?
In the past, travelling by night on dog sled teams was common. In the bush, there is a clear trail to follow and also trees protecting you from wind and snow. Now even with a skidoo with headlights, it is very dangerous to travel at night in logged areas as you can easily lose your trail because of heavy or even light snowfall in the clearcut area.
In summer, logging machines damage eggs laid by birds, partridges, owls and waterfowl. The young ones of these creatures are also destroyed before they can fly. Also destroyed are young pups of skunks, groundhogs, porcupines, martins, foxes and squirrels—wildlife that have their young in holes and that burrow in the ground.
Animals that hibernate for winter in dens are disturbed or destroyed. There were incidents where non-native workers found dens where bears were hibernating. This was uncommon before. Dens of hibernating animals are definitely destroyed during winter. In one incident, a bear and his den were bulldozed over to make way for the road.
There were situations where our lives were threatened by non-natives who used the logging roads. We will never know why. More often, it’s happening now because the area is full of roads. Nobody likes a gun pointed at him just for blueberries. This has happened. Talk about wildlife; it’s getting dangerous to live in the bush.
A lot of logging roads pass near or right through old campsites. That is why we live or see our hunting camps along the roads. The logging roads come to us, not us to them.
In logged out areas, you will find hunting look-outs on tree-tops on most lakes where there are access roads. Most are built to stay permanently (meaning three or four years).
In our hunting way of life, we have always used the moon as a time-keeper of the periodical phenomenal behavioural patterns and movements of most wildlife on our traplines.
Because of this knowledge, we know when certain wildlife are mating, when they are carrying their young ones, when they have eggs, certainly when animals would have young ones (pups).
We also knew when certain fish would spawn. All this by carefully watching the moon, water, land and the seasons.
After the area has been logged out, keeping track of the movements of certain wildlife by the moon itself is rendered useless.
back 300 to 600 years. We can just imagine what the flooding will do to the land. Cree knowledge of the land is not only handed down from one generation. It will take more than just one generation to learn or adapt to a strange new environment. With sudden overnight changes, you cannot use the same skills you had the day before, unless you know what you are dealing with.
What if there were some permanent changes? Where knowledge is passed down from one generation to another, what do you tell the next generation? I don’t know.
That is how we Cree hunters and trappers feel. With the drastic changes to the environment, it’s like a whole new beginning, starting all over again from scratch.
Whenever hunting societies stood up and argued for nature and said things like, “We are part of nature,” this has been used against them, and they have been labelled as “uncivilized” and their land taken away, so as to make better use of it. Is this what happened here?
In the past, before logging operations ever started, the Cree tallymen and hunters had a workable wildlife management system which everybody respected. Once logging operations started on remote traplines, what was once a workable wildlife management system for centuries was blown right out of the water.
The natural movements of wildlife are destroyed. Because of the logging operations and the sudden appearance of roads, the overkill of wildlife happens. In a whole new different environment, what little wildlife is left is in constant danger and confusion. What used to be the rate of wildlife reproduction can never recover.
And unchecked forestry activities continue on and the aftermath follows. There were incidents where non-native loggers bragged of killing a moose metres away from the road beside a pond during season. The fate of wildlife which Cree hunters depend on is at a critical period. There are people who say there are some signs of recovery after “eight to 10 years.” Ten years in somebody’s lifetime is very long. What are we hunters going to eat during that time? Rocks? Someone might think the forestry roads have made Cree hunters travel easier and more mobile. The same could be said about the whole population that does not care about nature except for trophies and greed. People who tend to believe there are positive aspects of forestry operations often use a leap of faith and a willingness to suspend disbelief. Maybe because there are people out there who do not care about the environment, or who know nothing about nature or the environment. Definitely, these are the only two reasons there are.
As you may notice, we have not discussed the heavy pollution to the land, water and the air caused by the sawmills; and they do dose down one day as we have seen in the past. Forest industries have their peak at one point. From there on, like it or not, it’s downhill all the way. Definitely we will all be poor one day.
We are not accustomed to looking at the combined impacts of all forestry operations, environmentally or socially—and to make matters more complicated, at the evolution of hydroelectric development in the same region.
A lot of other environmental and social impacts from forestry operations could have been discussed. But most, if not all, events mentioned in this document relate to actual happenings on trapline W-23-A.
The same could be said of other Waswanipi traplines that are already logged out or in the process. It donned on me one day when all of our traplines were already clearcut why we had failed in our efforts when we met the loggers to save moose yards or other wildlife habitats, no matter how much we pleaded with them. They had brought cutting plans which were already in effect. There were going to be no changes to the cutting plans. Because of this contact we had with them, it was taken or used as a rubber stamp to go ahead and clearcut.
After the few meetings with the loggers and the negative response that went along with it, we felt sad and powerless to ever have exchanges with them again, and the years went by. Less and less, the birds sang, until one day we heard their beautiful songs no more and our hearts cried out as we hugged our children and told them to pray. Nothing could slow the loggers down. They were cutting fast, because they knew their powerful government was totally behind them. The depleting of Waswanipi traplines continues on.
Due to logging on our traditional lands, there is much less wildlife to depend on. We have much less to feed our families. On hunting expeditions, we are coming home more often empty-handed. We never hunted by chance; we always knew where we stood with nature before. During the fruitless hunting expeditions, exploring the “land of tomorrow,” you will see nothing for miles around. We are saddened to have found animals and fowl starved to death or which for some other reason just did not make it. Animals that do make it are often unhealthy.
Did somebody betray a relationship? Did somebody fail to defend the land? Is that why these things happen?
The Cree hunters’ and trappers’ greatest fear is that all traplines will eventually be depleted. Some people would like to argue that forestry is compatible with the hunting way of life. Yes, it is compatible with the white man’s way of hunting for “sport.” With logging.roads, you are opening,the territory to sports hunters— a territory that belonged to a hunting society that existed since time immemorial, a society that lived in harmony with nature.
The greatest encyclopedia of ancient scientific knowledge of a certain area I’ve come across was our own Cree Elders. With that, I have come to terms with the fact that we are one of the strongest hunting societies still existing today in the world. Can our sons and daughters say this in the next hundred years? A lot of other hunting societies have disappeared long ago. “And we wonder why.”
Here, we are witnessing the dying of one of the three greatest hunting societies still existing today in Canada. A culture and philosophy that existed for over 5,000 years is slowly being destroyed. For the children’s sake, let’s just hope the hunting way of life may yet triumph over the worst the forestry impacts are doing to it.
In loving memory to my friends (the animals) who are still out there in the bush.
I owe it to you all. Surely my sons and I would not be here today. Meequetch. Thank you. May you roam the world forever and in our hearts.
“We are one of the strongest hunting societies still existing today in the world.”