Five Cree hunters from Chisasibi were fined approximately $300 by the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) for offences under a Municipality of James Bay (MBJ) bylaw regarding “peace and good order” in December 2009 and early January.

This new bylaw restricts the use of firearms within two kilometers of an airport and other facilities, across or towards a road. The SQ said that was the reason in fining the Cree hunters.

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said, “Through this bylaw, the MBJ has attempted to determine zones where firearm use and ‘camping’ will not be allowed, without consideration for Cree harvesting rights and related activities under the JBNQA.”

Former Chief Abraham Rupert and Cree Trappers Association member for Chisasibi, said the SQ recently went to the community to explain the new by-law to local hunters. They showed the community maps for the “rather large area” near Radisson and portions of either side of the Trans Taiga Road where Crees are no longer allowed to hunt despite the fact that the area is Category II land.

“We were told that it was dangerous where we were shooting our firearms and that it was dangerous to the people who live at the camps. Fines were handed out for at least $300,” said Rupert.

Rupert said Chief Roderick Pachano read portions of the JBNQA to the SQ officers to explain how this bylaw violated the Agreement and that, culturally, Crees regard safety with the utmost importance and do not shoot anywhere near communities. However, his explanations fell on deaf ears. The SQ told the Crees that they were under orders to enforce the bylaw.

This was why when Coon Come, along with legal council, traveled to Chisasibi on the week of January 18 to discuss the matter with the community.

“These tickets are now being contested in the courts, with the support of the Grand Council of the Crees. We intend to challenge not only the individual tickets, but also the power of the MBJ to pass such a bylaw contrary to the JBNQA. Further, we will attack the legality of the MBJ Council and its capacity to enact bylaws generally,” said Coon Come.

At the same time, many Crees from Chisasibi are also experiencing a great deal of difficulty hunting within their own territories due to the practices of non-Native sports hunters who have been described as reckless.

“This year the caribou are not where they usually are, they are further east, they seem to be closer to the coast. People have started mentioning that they have started seeing sports hunters coming into the access road of Chisasibi,” said Rupert.

Sport hunters have been coming closer to the community and many in Chisasibi have expressed concern about them using high-powered firearms. As a result of unsafe hunting practices trappers are being driven off the land preventing them from pursuing their traditional activities. At a time when trappers are normally out on their traplines, they are instead community bound.

According to Rupert, this is not the only offensive move of the sports hunters. Many have killing caribou on the side of the road and leaving their carcasses where they died.

Coon Come also met with the CTA to discuss these matters and went to inspect the territory for himself.

“I witnessed carcasses that had been left close to or within Category II lands. I had the opportunity to ride with Chief Pachano to LG 3. We saw to our disgust and dismay caribou heads, hides and legs left on the side of the road. For a Cree who was taught that we respect and use all the parts of the animal, seeing this was totally unacceptable,” said Coon Come.

According to Coon Come, all of the aforementioned issues were raised by the Grand Council at the Standing Liaison Committee meeting on January 21. Their hope is that these matters can be resolved through that process. The GCC will be exploring other means of addressing these issues at the February 9 Council Board meetings in Mistissini.