Rev. Billy Ottereyes has been trapping on the same trapline 70 miles east of Senneterre for 35 years. It spans 10 miles by 15 along the CN railroad track to Quebec City.

The Coopers have been trapping nearby since the turn of the century.

But that’s not how the Algonquins of Lac Simon see it. Eight Senneterre-area traplines, including those of Rev. Ottereyes and the Coopers, are the subject of a 10-year dispute between the Crees and Algonquins. The Lac Simon people claim this area as part of their ancestral lands.

Now there may finally be some movement on the conflict. A meeting was held in November between the Chiefs of Lac Simon and Waswanipi, trappers from both sides and Mary-Jane Moar, the elected spokeswoman for the Senneterre Crees.

“It’s going well,” says Chief John Kitchen, who’s involved because most of the Crees living in Senneterre are members of the Waswanipi First Nation. “Before, we were just head-to-head. We never sat down and met. At least we’re meeting and talking nation-to-nation without getting anyone else involved.

“I think both parties are right,” he said. “There were some inter-marriages and verbal agreements on Dividing the land, but nothing exists on paper. I think we have to put it on paper so our children don’t dispute this also.”

Moar is also upbeat, though at times she says the dispute has been “aggravating.” She points to a 1938 decree by the Chief of Obedjiwan who told certain Crees they could trap in the areas currently in dispute. “The Crees came along and took it over. They kind of have an acquired right. You can’t just say get out of here,” says Moar. “These people have been there for years and years.”

Rev. Ottereyes says he hasn’t seen any Algonquins working on his trapline in all the years he’s been there. If a trapline lies unattended for too long, the wolf population increases, the balance of nature is disturbed and the land becomes less productive.

The dispute turned ugly two years ago when some young Algonquins dropped in on Rev. Ottereyes and claimed his trapline for themselves. “I told them when I was here you weren’t born yet,” he recalls. But that didn’t stop someone from pulling out some of his traps and hanging them on a tree.

The Algonquins haven’t come back, but the problem remains unsolved. And unless it is, tensions could escalate as logging south of Val d’Or pushes Algonquins further north. Says Rev. Ottereyes, “They should try to do something before there’s trouble.”