Squatters are like moss; they appear in places where they’re least wanted. The problem with squatters in Eeyou Istchee has reached epidemic proportions of late, and the Grand Council of the Crees has called on the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to set guidelines for dealing with illegal cabins.

The hunters who use these cabins also pose a big problem. “They’re often in competition for the game resources during hunting season,” said Geoff Quaile, the environmental advisor for the Grand Council. “They’ve been known to put up signs saying, ‘We’re hunting here stay away,’ so the tallyman isn’t able to exercise his rights. That’s the main problem, the competition over the scarce resources like moose and fishing.”

Quaile says hunters also use these camps to act like outfitters, inviting friends and others, meaning the camps are in constant use.

He says preliminary guidelines have put limits on legal cabins which get approved in the territory. Prior to this process, however, there was no consultation with the Cree on these cabins, nor did the government have any criteria in place.

But the Grand Council wants to put in restrictions on cabin location – forbidding them in the 1% and 25% areas of special interest trapline areas as designated by the tallyman under the new forestry zone. There would be none on category 2 lands, which is already in place.

“There would be limited restrictions for small lakes. For example, they wouldn’t be allowed to put a cabin if there was a small lake. If there’s no access to a lake, they are not allowed to build access,” said Quaile.

When a lease is signed for a cabin, it typically entitles the user to 400 square metres of land. The lease is renewable annually.

“Let’s say there are five major rivers and every one of them is closed off to the trapper because of the [nonnative] hunters. Then we have a problem. And this is what the reality of the situation is today,” said Paul Gull, Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council.

Two main concerns for the Cree are the number of legal and illegal cabins on each trapline. In both cases, the Grand Council says it’s necessary to consult with the tallyman to get his opinion on the situation. The government would be advised not to grant any more legal cabin leases before the illegal ones were dealt with. And in the case of too many legal cabins on one trapline, Gull said that one solution might be not to grant leases to any more legal cabins, unless the number went down. Gull could not say how many is too many.

“In the past, Quebec has more or less demolished the cabins if they didn’t have a certain license. And these days, they don’t do that anymore. And they don’t want to do it,” Gull said.

Gull said the government prefers the Cree get involved in the PRDTP process (Plan régional du développement de territoire public), a consultation process on how to deal with the cabins. But Gull says the PRDTP route does not reflect the nation-to-nation relationship the Cree have with Quebec.

“They’ve done the same thing to the Lac St-Jean region,” Gull noted. “It seems like it’s almost a condition, that if we don’t join this, we can’t settle this issue.”

Gull also wants to ensure the elimination of rough shelter leases. Rough shelters are made to accommodate two people or less and have very few contents, usually just a bed. Rough shelters hanging from a tree are also unwelcome by the Cree.

Presently, there are 150 to 200 illegal cabins within Cree territory. The Grand Council has refused to approve at least 52 new cabin leases until the government deals with this matter. The problem is the province’s tight budget concerning this issue, according to Normand Laprise, the Regional Director for the Northern Region of Quebec for Public Land Management with the MNR.

“In the Lac St. Jean region, we’ve gotten rid of 3,200 illegal cabins since 1992. But this has been done within our regular budget,” said Laprise.

He went on to add that the squatters would be dealt with, but it would be much easier if the Cree become a part of the PRDTP process. Guidelines are harder to set without Cree participation.

Laprise told the Nation that getting the evidence and prosecuting the squatters is a lengthy process, and may be the reason why Quebec appears to have a lackadaisical attitude towards the problem. Laprise said that this was not the case and assured that criteria for dealing with these cabins should be in place by 2006.

Cree members of the joint working group on forestry have supplied Quebec with a map of illegal cabins based on a map of legal cabins that was given to the Cree by Quebec. This will make the province’s job easier when trying to locate the squatters.

The Cree Regional Authority hopes to submit a proposal to deal with this problem to the standing liaison committee by September.