Forestry activities in the Cree territory were not widespread or on a large scale when the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed. They were considered to be compatible with the hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering way of life.
But as forests have become depleted further south, as consumption of wood and paper products has increased, and as technological developments have enabled increasingly rapid deforestation carried out ’round the clock, the wave of large-scale forest destruction has penetrated further and further north. No longer are forestry activities compatible with traditional harvesting activities, nor are the environment and wildlife protected. Our territory is becoming a Brazil of the North. Not only have the trees been cut, but a cancer of forestry roads penetrates Cree traplines, bringing southern hunters to previously inaccessible areas. Mining companies are following.
Muskuuchii (Bear Mountain) lies in the southeastern part of JBNQA territory, on land of the Cree Nation of Waskaganish. For as long as the Elders can remember, this mountainous area, the spine of which is about 25 km in length and 10 km in width, has been an abundant source of game, in particular moose, even during times of scarcity elsewhere. In the 1930s, for example, beaver, a staple of the Cree diet, disappeared from Cree territory. Many of our people suffered conditions of starvation and poverty, and were saved from death by the bounty of Muskuuchii. Families travelled great distances to this perpetual source of food.
“Sometimes when we walked on the edge of the mountain, we didn’t see any moose tracks. BUT, once we got onto Muskuuchii, WOW! All you could see was nothing but moose tracks and other game.” —Bertie Diamond Sr., Elder. “There was a time in life that my family ran out of food for us to eat.. If it wasn’t for the abundance of food on Muskuuchii we probably wouldn’t be around at this very moment. Nobody would see my children and grandchildren running around these days.” —Johnny Weistche, Elder.
Because of this reliability as an abundant source of food, Muskuuchii was and continues to be held in great respect and considered sacred. Sacredness was an integral part of life, not something separate from the people and from the practicalities of day-to-day life. Because of the eternal blessings given by Muskuuchii, it was treated with special respect, in order for these blessings to continue.
Everyone tried to have as little impact as possible on the mountain and its wildlife. Noise was kept to a minimum, with no shots being fired on calm days, hunters speaking in whispers, and even accompanying dogs being trained not to bark. Fires were made only for eating and after the moose had been killed. Then the fire was put out and covered to erase even its scent. A trail would be made only in order to carry the moose off the mountain. All sorts of game besides moose were harvested, but these were usually taken from the perimeter and surroundings. No camp would be made on the mountain itself.
“We even used dead trees and branches for tanning moosehide and other purposes, so we didn’t have to cut wood and scare the game away.” —Hilda Diamond, Elder
“A white man will do anything for money. They don’t ask or negotiate. They just go ahead as long as money is the issue.” —George Diamond Sr., Elder
“We must fight as hard against forestry activities as against hydroelectric megaprojects. Cutting of our forests will just as surely as dams result in their destruction and the disappearance of the wildlife, and consequently of the Cree traditional pursuits and way of life.” —Billy Diamond, Chief
From a pamphlet by the Waskaganish First Nation.