Recently, a poll by Léger Marketing showed Quebecers felt it was important to protect endangered species.
It’s an attitude the Crees know well. It’s even one they have been a part of when the need was there. For example, in the 1940s the Cree and the Hudson Bay Company created beaver preserves. Non-Native trappers decimated the beaver populations. Crees trapped them and they were transported to beaver preserves and as the populations grew they were transplanted to other parts of Eeyou Istchee where they have healthy and sustainable populations to this day.
This hits close to home as Emmett MacLeod, my grandfather, was a Conservation Officer. With the willing assistance of tallymen a ban on caribou hunting was accepted by Crees for a period of 15 or so years in the Mistissini, Chibougamau and Nemaska regions until caribou herds regained a healthy and sustainable population. They had been overhunted by non-Natives and were in danger of disappearing from the area.
In the 1980s, Cree wouldn’t shoot the Black Brant geese as they were endangered. Bill Namagoose remembers many around the hunting blind within range but swimming safely because of his and other Cree families’ commitment to not only a principle of conservation but respect and concern for those they shared the land with.
In the early 1980s, Crees stopped hunting moose in Zone 22 of Eeyou Istchee because they were worried about the alarming lack of sightings of this food source.
This concern and historical tradition of conservation continues to this day. And Crees welcome the fact other Quebecers are concerned as well. The poll says 87-93% of all Quebecers believe the Quebec government should share information on the status of Woodland Caribou before making decisions about resource sharing in affected areas. Today most Quebecers believe that the province prioritizes economic development and jobs at the expense of the environment (63%).
Concerns over the Woodland Caribou are real. Quebec’s own members of the expert committee think there are only three herds of Woodland Caribou left in Quebec. They estimate a population of 700 and believe for a herd to be sustainable you need at least 300. Getting this close to the limit is looking at an eleventh hour solution and none is in sight.
The Plan Nord is going to extend Route 167 and Quebec hasn’t come up with a protection plan to save the herds. In fact, there is no protection plan within the territory of Eeyou Istchee and the other two herds are in the upper Broadback River area. Some say a little east and northward but little has been done to ensure their survival.
Bill Namagoose points out that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement said when there are problems, sports hunting will be the first cutback followed by forestry. The second stage is Crees doing no more than subsistence hunting followed by no hunting at all by Crees when a species is endangered. Namagoose says the Grand Council of the Crees is calling for a moratorium on development activities in the affected areas until Quebec meets its obligations not only under the Agreement and the endangered species laws.
Now is the time to act and all residents of Quebec are looking at our government to do what is right, lawful and desired by everyone. Save the Woodland Caribou.