Mark Twain wrote that Indians are dirty, lying, thieving beggars. Long before this, French explorer Jacques Cartier also opined on thievery among Indians. It doesn’t help that in 1534, he treacherously seized 10 Iroquois, including chiefs, and sailed for France. None would ever return home.
This characterization of North American Aboriginals as lying thieves and beggars is a part of history that has repercussions to this day. Many Natives can attest to it being part of the mentality of many Canadians today without consideration for the other side of the coin. Attempting to redress wrongs and injustices perpetrated by all levels of society often is an uphill battle as can be seen by many court cases.
It even seeps into the lower parts of society, as “Indians” feel that reporting thefts to the police is a waste of time seeing the low priority their complaints are given. Perhaps this is changing these days but the past has many examples of inaction. Crees are certainly no exception to this and it’s about to get worse.
To be fair, the problem now is due to a new lack of resources. As seen in the last issue of the Nation, the newly formed forestry, wildlife and parks department (Le ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, or MFFP) will be eliminating 16 game wardens from their staff. The Lebel-sur-Quévillon office will have two agents to cover Waswanipi, Waskaganish and Matagami. In Radisson, Kuujjuarapik, Chisasibi and Kuujjuaq there will be one person in each office. Chibougamau will be given four game wardens, who will cover Oujé-Bougoumou, Nemaska, Eastmain and Mistissini.
Not only will this allow an increase in poaching but it will exasperate the problems of traditional people who still hunt, fish and trap on the land. Forestry companies build roads making more and more of the traditional traplines accessible to non-Natives. In Waswanipi alone, there are about 600 camps registered to non-Natives and well over 100 illegal camps. In Waswanipi, there have been many complaints about Cree camps being vandalized and expensive equipment stolen.
Many non-Natives are unaware that trappers do not have a large yearly income and cannot easily replace hunting and trapping equipment. With the loss of an effective team, game wardens will not be able to monitor activities in Eeyou Istchee and we can expect even more inroads that will harm our ability to practice a Cree way-of-life.
While our leadership is working on this there are some things you can do. One is to clearly mark expensive belongings. Also add a harder-to-find mark. Your local police force may be able to help you with this. A low-cost engraving tool is an easy solution.
Another is to inventory your belongings. Include photos of distinguishing features (like scratches or dents). Some of you may consider taking out insurance on more expensive items in order to replace them should you be victimized.
Earlier impressions that “Indians” were thieves were the result of encroachments on their land by settlers and the conflicts or misunderstandings of each other’s cultures. Cree land is being encroached upon and we can all see the concept of thieves doesn’t apply to any one culture or peoples.