When I first read Abel Jolly’s affidavit in the Mario Lord forestry court case, I was a little stunned to realize something that has always stared me in the face.
You might say I couldn’t see the forest for the lack of trees. I realized what is happening to the Crees with forestry is nothing more than what happened to the Plains Indians when the buffalo were slaughtered in their millions.
For the lack of a resource, a culture – a people – were impoverished and nearly destroyed. When you read the words of Abel Jolly you’ll realize that the practice continues to this day. The slaughter of trees on Cree land will impoverish us. You can feel and see it as you read the Ndoho Ouchimau’s testimony. Unfortunately we couldn’t include everything he said due to space, but we included as much as we could.
Abel Jolly: I am one of the members of the Nemaska First Nation. I am 56 years old. I have always lived on my hunting territory since I was a child. I love my land. It is my home and it was entrusted to me. However, there has been some cutting on my land. This makes me sad and confused about the future of the land for my children, grandchildren and future generations who will be using this traditional territory.
Since my wife passed away in March 1996, I am frequently alone in my camp. I find strength there knowing I can feed my children with the products of my hunting, fishing and trapping activities. My intention is to transfer my hunting territory to two or three of my children for the next generation to be able to continue the Cree traditional way of life. However, the cutting is a threat to these plans.
I am a full-time hunter, fisherman and trapper. I mostly go into the bush during fall, winter, spring and part of summer. I spend about 200 days in the bush per year. I am the Ndoho Ouchimau, or tallyman, of my hunting territory, now known as N-20.
As Ndoho Ouchimau of my hunting territory, I have full authority over my land. Everyone in our community knows this and respects it. My authority lets me decide who should be allowed access to the land. I can direct people who are in need to highly productive areas where they can successfully hunt, fish or trap. All Crees understand my important role. I should be able to exercise my authority with non-Native people. Unfortunately, they do not understand that I am the guardian of the Ndoho Istchee. It is my job to manage my land and ensure that it is not over-exploited. I am the guardian of conservation for future generations.
Since my hunting territory has already been affected by forestry operations, I think it is time for the courts to intervene in order to protect my land for my children to continue exercising the Cree traditional way of life. I do not want the land to be denuded from all its trees. Trees are very important for us Crees, as well as the forest.
As a result of the forestry operations and other factors, it is becoming more and more difficult for me to manage my hunting territory, while it is my role to make sure that the principle of conservation for future generations is respected.
Forestry cutting has disturbed the Cree season cycle, notably by interfering with and destroying wildlife habitats. However, I try to maintain the Cree traditional way of life as much as I can. But it is not the same as it used to be.
During the fall season, to the extent that I can, I hunt moose, bears and small game, I gather berries and some medicinal plants, I do the inventory of beaver lodges, and I harvest fish and trap a little. At this time of year, there is no trapping for small game such as marten, mink and otter as their fur is not yet prime and, economically, it has little market value. Hunting for waterfowl (geese and ducks) is very intense at this time of year. Gillnet fishing for mainly walleye, pike, suckers, catfish and whitefish for food is carried out. I also hunt for small game like partridge and rabbit around or near my camp.
During the winter season, to the extent I can, I intensively hunt fur-bearing animals, I hunt small game, I selectively hunt moose during the mid-winter, I visit other areas of my hunting territory for inventory and for planning purposes and I traditionally get ready for the spring. I go back to the community for about two weeks to be with my children for Christmas holidays and I return to my camp around the second week of January after buying the essential basic commodities. My trapping activities are concentrated on beaver, marten, mink, otter, lynx and other fur-bearing animals as this is the time of year when the fur is at its prime.
During January and February, the snow is soft. When I hunt moose, I use my snowshoes because the softness of the snow makes no noise. This is the best time of the year to hunt moose. The majority of the hunting for moose occurs in the months of February and March because of deep snow conditions and the fact that the mid-winter rains produce ice crusts immobilizing moose in their winter yards. When I kill a moose, the meat is shared with family members and/or other Ndoho Eenouch on other areas of the hunting territory, and some meat is sent to the community. Moose has always been an important animal for us Crees. We respect moose deeply.
My harvesting activities are not always successful. Sometimes, the animals are not around when I hunt. This can go on for days but I still find the strength to continue my traditional way of life. There are good and bad times.
In early spring, the sun makes the snow hard. This makes it difficult for the moose to travel. I and other Ndoho Eenouch hunt moose during that period. I also leave traps for small game including otter. Goose hunting is very intense at this time of year and lasts two weeks. During the early spring hunting season, my children and grandchildren who were in school or at work are on “goose break” and live with their families out on the trapline. This is the most important period of the Cree calendar and for families to come together as a family unit. During the late spring, we fish using a gillnet and nightlines. The fish we take is smoked and put in freezers in the community; some we can eat fish during the summer months.
During the summer season, we Crees do not do very much hunting. We understand that young wildlife must have time to feed and grow. We respect this natural process and try to save animals such as moose or bear from hunting. No female moose is harvested during summer season.
I and the Ndoho Eenouch as well as my ancestors used to use different species of trees for different purposes. Now our culture has been modernized. However, sometimes we still make use of the wood for different purposes. Sometimes it is not possible for us to purchase the equivalent. We also sometimes choose to use wood to continue living off the land like our ancestors have showed us.
For example, birch and tamarack were used and sometimes still are used to make axe handles, bow and arrow frames, sleighs or toboggans, shovels, cooking utensils, snowshoe frames and baby rattle frames. The birch bark was used and sometimes still is used to wrap any kind of meat for storage and as a fire starter, for moose calls, for food baskets, for canoe covers, for teepee canvas, to cover storage (e.g. hunting equipment), for containers for placing meat and for writing and making designs on.
Spruce was used and sometimes still is used for teepee and tent frames, sleighs, firewood, baby cradle boards, paddles, shovels, bow and arrow frames. Boughs are used and sometimes still are used for teepee and tent flooring. The rotting wood is used for smoking moose hides and food like fish and meat.
Tamarack branches were used and sometimes are used to make bird decoys for hunting when it is not possible to have rubber bird decoys. Tamarack branches are still used for decorative bird decoys.
Cedar and tamarack were used and sometimes still are traditionally used to make canoes, drum frames, baby rattle frames, snowshoe frames and fish net indicators. Cedar and pine cones can be used as colour dies for fishnets. Birch and willow branches are used for bait when snaring rabbit.
Poplar is used for firewood when dry or green. Young stands are used for slingshot frames and rotting wood for smoking moose hides, moose meat, fish and bear meat. Poplar is the food for beaver and also bait for trapping. Dry wood is used to burn quills of porcupine in an open fire and to burn some feathers from waterfowl (e.g. ducks, geese, etc.) Alder and young balsam fir are types of wood that are eaten by moose during the fall and winter. Because of its flexibility, alder was also used to hold a fly net to cover a baby hammock (protection from flies).
My hunting territory has been disturbed by forestry operations and by forest fires for a long time. I do not understand these forestry companies. Why do they need so many trees? I was told they took a lot in the south. Why do they need more?
Around March, the forestry companies do not use the winter roads anymore. They take their machines out of the roads and on the land because of the spring thaw, the winter roads being flooded. Now, my hunting territory is covered with wetlands. It was not that way before.
Domtar Inc. has been clear-cutting on my hunting territory. I do not approve of this cutting and I refuse once again to move my main camp site. It has been previously moved with the help of Domtar Inc., but I refuse to move again.
The forestry companies have left buffer-zone strips along the streams and rivers of my hunting territory. I have noticed that the trees still fall and dry up in these areas. I do not think their techniques work around the stream. I think it affects and destroys animal habitats. They should ask advice from the Crees. We know our land. Even some winter moose habitats have been destroyed by forestry operations in the northern part of my hunting territory. Good areas for loon and geese have also been disrupted. I have not consented to this.
My father, the late Philip Jolly, taught me the traditional Cree knowledge. I want to do the same and continue to teach my children how to carry out the Cree traditional way of life. I have already taught some of my children the Cree traditional way of life. I want them to be able to exercise it. I fear that the forestry operations could prevent them from doing so.
In the past, game could be found close to my camp. Since the forestry operations have started in my hunting territory, the large game and particularly moose has moved away. Once again, the fact that moose has moved away will take away a very important part of our traditional activities.
I hunt marten. Marten does not stay in areas disturbed by forestry.
As I have told you, these forestry activities have significantly affected my traditional way of life. My father has always looked after the land. The land has always looked after my father. The land has always looked after me. I want the land to look after my children but I am afraid that the companies cut as they please as they did down south.
Even the taste of water is not the same. Now, I use snow during winter to drink while I used to fetch water in my hunting territory. My children and grandchildren will not be able to continue living off the land if all these forestry operations continue. The forestry activities even impact on our dietary source of food, particularly on the animals that eat aquatic plants like beaver, fish and moose. The beaver tastes very different now. This might have effects on my physical person. I liked it before there was forestry. There is now less and less beaver around.
In the past, there was plenty of geese within a small bay area, but now we only see a few. Animals and fish and their habitat disappear when forestry operations are carried out by forestry companies, particularly in the areas which have been clear-cut. Once they have finished cutting and the forest is removed, it is not possible to carry out my harvesting activities of hunting, fishing and trapping. I cannot return to exercising my traditional activities until the forest has fully grown, and that takes time. As they cut more trees and remove more forest, my land base continues to get smaller and smaller. A healthy land base is essential for me to be able to continue practicing the Cree way of life. As my land base keeps getting smaller and smaller, it becomes more and more difficult for me to pass on my traditional knowledge to my children, as everything has changed. If I cannot instruct my children how to manage the land and how to care for the animals and forest, our ways will be lost.
The noise of heavy machinery operating 24 hours a day is very disturbing for me and the Ndoho Eenouch of my hunting territory.
There is erosion of the soil into the waterways. The colour of the water has changed and so has the smell. You can tell that the water is full of soil from the logging.
The Creator gave the way the land is formed, grew plants, made animals, made the land beautiful and made it possible for us to find some economic benefit. The forests created by the Creator have to be saved in order to have something left to pass on to my children and grandchildren. I want to maintain the Cree way of life.
So far, the only consultation done by the forestry companies was to send us information on their cutting plans. I had no say in the plan but was only informed. My point of view has never been taken into account. They should take into account our concerns, otherwise nothing will be left.
I understand the importance of the logging for the people who work in that job. I know that they have families that rely on the jobs. However, my family also relies on the land. Right now, our needs are not being considered.