Many people would be happy to have a road near the place where they live, work and play, but trappers are an exception.
Trappers on trapline R-21 are adversely affected by a new road called the Route du Nord running from Nemaska to Chibougamau.
Freddy Jolly is the tallyman of the R-21 trapline, which supports five families including his. R-21 has been a Jolly family trapline for thousands of years passed on from tallyman to tallyman according to traditional Cree custom. “Where are the words that our leaders use: ‘Respect the land, respect the animals?” Freddy asks. “We have shed tears for R-21.”
The Route du Nord has affected nine Cree traplines. The fears that the trappers have expressed are already proving to be real. Two days before Freddy talked to The Nation, a Mistissini trapper had his skidoo stolen near the Route du Nord. This is also the first time that Freddy and other trappers have had to buy food from a store to feed their families. “The big game animals aren’t there because of the construction,” said Freddy, explaining why R-21 wasn’t able to feed him and the other families as it had in the past.
The trappers know this road will allow access to non-Crees, who don’t respect the tallyman or understand the bush. “Now, I’ll have to use bright clothes so I don’t get killed checking my rabbit snares,” said Freddy.
“Other people I’ve talked to tell me about those other hunters. They shoot at any movement or sound. My children won’t be safe.”
Freddy expressed other fears about forestry, citing the clearcutting of traplines in the Waswanipi territory. The forestry industry has made a financial contribution toward the costs of the road, Freddy noted, saying that they have plans for the land.
The road itself has been responsible for the destruction of 24 hills on R-21. When Hydro-Quebec came through with its transmission lines, the utility consulted with Freddy on where to locate the route. But nobody consulted Freddy on the best route for the road.
Instead, he was told he would have to leave the cabin where his father passed away three years before. He remembers his father saying, “As a hunter, our senses will be changed. We don’t hear the sound of a beaver’s tail slapping the water, a caribou passing by any more. All that we hear is the bulldozers.”
To Freddy, the coming of the road means there will be more people on his land who do not respect the tallyman’s wisdom in harvesting its resources. Incoming fishermen will disturb sensitive fish spawning grounds. It will bring hunters who kill whatever moves, forestry operations that clearcut without regard for the eco-system and eventually Hydro-Quebec trucks for the Eastmain projects at first, then NBR. Alcohol and drugs will enter in greater numbers killing his part of the culture.
This is Freddy’s fight, one he fights day by day, knowing he must do everything in his power to save the land his father passed on to him, that he wants to pass on to his children in their time.
Freddy’s love for the land is a real and tangible thing, able to touch another human being through a phone line.
This is the first in an occasional series of articles called The wounded land about how the land and its caretakers have been affected by various development projects.