The Cox family is under attack once again as a cabin situated on their trapline was burnt to the ground January 18. Firefighters responded to the scene, but according to eyewitnesses, no evidence was taken to verify if the fire was in fact arson.
Josie Cox, who is a Cree Culture Teacher at the James Bay Eeyou School in Chisasibi, is sick and tired of everything he has had to put up with since launching a Cree Traditional Lodging Camp to attract tourists to the area and teach them Cree ways many years ago.
“I wasn’t there when it happened,” said Cox. “I got a bit upset because the people staying there were good friends of mine.”
Cox says he has a general idea who set the cabin on fire, but he would not identify the individuals. “There were a lot of skidoos going around at that time the night before and shots were fired. There is a lot of poaching that goes on around there.”
The incident is not an isolated one as the Cox trapline has taken numerous hits since LG-2 was completed in the 1980s.
Some of the things that hinder Cox’s ability to hunt and trap on his trapline include:
— An airport, which sits a few kilometres from his main cabin.
— A dump, filled with Caribou carcasses and material that should be recycled as well as plenty of other types of waste, rests upon a hill nearby. When a strong wind picks up, debris flies all over the place, making a huge mess. People have also burnt garbage there, which sometimes includes propane tanks and other dangerous materials.
— A federated skidoo trail runs right though his driveway and if he drives his snowmobile on the trail without a proper pass, he will be fined.
— The old Camping des Pins, owned by the MBJ and leased through the Ministry of Natural Resources, is mere metres from his cabin. Although the MBJ told the Nation they would let the permit on the defunct campground expire a few years ago, it has since been renewed.
— Within his trapline lies a “lottery zone” where hunters apply to hunt two caribou each during hunting season. They are then eligible to catch another two caribou with an outfitter. Cox’s brother Sam runs a Cree Outfitting Camp and he cannot hunt in these areas, which constitute a very large part of the family trapline, because he is not allowed to as an outfitter under MBJ rules.
Two years ago, MBJ officials painted a red X on one of his Cree lodges to halt construction because it did not conform to its building code.
Cox was not pleased. “Apparently there is a building code for Cree lodging,” he said. “Not in my book.”
He is also looking to build a Cree Learning and Information Centre on the old Camping des Pins site, but the Ministry of Natural Resources said they need more information on the proposed activities of both components before they give the project a green light.
When Cox started negotiations to buy the buildings he currently owns from Hydro back in the mid-1990s, the slow pace of the talks enabled some unknown vandals to tear the place apart. Provincial firefighters from La Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) were living there at the time.
The Nation visited the dump and the cabins formerly owned by Hydro.
The cabins have clearly been destroyed to stop Cox from opening a business there.
Pieces of a large industrial stove have been ripped off, the burners missing and the dials gone. The fluorescent lighting on the ceiling is gone, windows are broken and .22 calibre bullet holes have penetrated the window and found a resting place around head level in some of the walls.
All this, coupled with an intimidating visit by a dangerously low-flying helicopter a couple of years ago that ripped the electrical housing off the side of one of the cabins and a burn mark the size of a desk in the middle of one of the cabin floor, has Cox and his two business partners fearing for their lives.
Because of numerous attempts by vandals to break into each cabin, guard dogs are now left to watch over them.
Business partner Sylvain Paquin and consultant Gilbert Hamel stay at the camp, located near kilometre 581, to document some of these incidents and to discourage vandals from further damaging Cox’s place.
They allege that their dogs have been poisoned and that soon after the Nation ran an article about Cox’s troubles on his trapline, Hydro came in to rip out the electrical access for the camp, making it much more difficult and costly to start it up later on. According to Hamel, the guy from Hydro who gave the orders, which they have on tape, was forced into early retirement after it was brought to his superiors.
Hamel, who used to sit on Radisson’s town council, admitted he once thought the creation and future success of the town of 300 was a good thing.
“I wanted it to succeed,” said Hamel. “I fought for Radisson’s rights to be recognized as a town, but I knew little about Crees back then.”
Hamel said many people in Radisson discouraged him from hanging out and making friends with Crees. Once he did start to talk to the Crees, however, he soon fell in love with their lifestyle, teachings and most importantly, their way of life that was not being protected enough.
“It’s all the misinformation by Radisson and others that keep people ignorant about the Crees,” Hamel said. “Once people get to know them and how much they are always willing to help out, they respect the Crees much more.”
Hamel claims that the MBJ has passed resolutions to accommodate their own needs. One example, according to Hamel, is the size of illegal cabins. It used to be that 14’ X 16’ was the legal maximum size of a cabin. New MBJ bylaws authorize much bigger projects, a few of which are two stories high, house a large number of hunters and have a much larger impact on the Cox trapline.
“Radisson was only supposed to be a camp for Hydro, but now it has expanded into an illegal locality,” said Cox, who is working with lawyers to put together a package that will shed more light on his current dilemma and help to document his plight.
“We want to find solutions to what’s going on and for non-Natives to have more respect for the land,” he said.