As the 40th Annual General Assembly of the Crees winds down in Waswanipi, about 16 youth and four guides will prepare for a canoe adventure down the Broadback River from Waswanipi to Waskaganish.

The expedition is a project organized by the Grand Council’s Department of the Environment and Remedial Works and the Cree Nation Government Youth Department.

According to Isaac Voyageur, Director of the Department of the Environment and Remedial Works, the expedition is part of a much larger project for environmental protection.

Voyageur said that project started in the summer of 2012 when the Council Board passed a resolution to create a conservation strategy. Then-Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff spearheaded the project but its duties have since been passed on to current Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark, who heads up the committee with Voyageur.

“We created a Protected Areas Committee that consists of members from each of the Cree communities as well as the Cree Trappers Association. In the meantime, the Crees of Nemaska and Waswanipi both submitted projects,” said Voyageur.

“The purpose of the Protected Areas Committee is to assist the communities in their plight to have certain areas protected within their respective territories and also assist and provide bio-technical knowledge to the communities in regards to this.”

In other words, the committee helps to move the projects along and it became evident that the Nemaska and Waswanipi projects were both within the confines of the Broadback watershed.

Voyageur said the committee decided that an alliance would be formed and that something would be submitted to Quebec and the Cree Nation Government under the moniker, the Broadback Watershed Protection Plan. The submission would include the projects of both communities and the idea was to have these community-designated spots act as core areas with the surrounding areas as buffers.

Since the committee had also been trying to raise the issue of the development threat to woodland caribou – a particular concern for Waswanipi as the community has only three intact traplines remaining after decades of resource development.

The Cree are optimistic that the Liberal government’s proposal to see 50% of Quebec’s north protected under the Plan Nord will help achieve the conservation of the area. A canoe brigade is one more effort to keep the campaign in the public eye.

According to Voyageur, there is a call-out for youth from all 10 communities to participate in the voyage. Youth can submit letters of interest to the Department of the Environment and Remedial Works. The goal is to get at least 10 canoes to carry 16 youth and four guides down the Broadback River though if more youth are interested other arrangements can be made.

The brigade will have a special ceremonial launch from the AGA August 6, but will actually depart down the river on August 7. They plan on arriving in Waskaganish August 25, depending on the weather.

“Another key component in this project is the exchange of knowledge from the guides to the youth who will be on this trip,” said Voyageur. “We always make a point in saying that we would like to maintain Cree culture and history and this is part of this exercise.”