It may sound like a headline from Iraq, but this time it’s Cree territory that is being invaded.
The annual Caribou Hunt for non-Native hunters opened Nov. 15. Since then many Crees have fled their hunting camps because of the danger of being shot accidentally. Stories of bullets whizzing by are now becoming a ritual year after year.
The most extraordinary story is about a pot of tea being hit while people were inside their hunting cabin.
True or not, the fact remains that the situation is becoming dangerous for anybody who uses the James Bay Highway. Hunters are shooting caribou with high-powered rifles close to the LG2 airport, though most shoot their caribou in the area around LG 4.
On Nov. 16, the family of Abraham Cox, Sr. was forced to return home earlier than planned because of hunting pressure. He says the shooting was too close for comfort at Kilometre 584, where his camp is situated. The situation is almost a yearly occurrence ever since the territory has been opened up to resident hunters to shoot caribou.
Another person who fled a similar situation is Abraham’s nephew, Christopher Cox. He had been at the camp to teach young students in the Alternative Education Program of the Cree School Board to survive out on the land. Christopher, like his uncle, had to leave for safety reasons. By Nov. 15, he had become concerned that one of his students could be accidentally shot.
Marc Dion, of Protection de faune du Quebec, says authorities had already advised all the outfitting camps on the dangers of shooting close to Cree hunting camps. Mr. Dion told The Nation that the posted perimeter of 4 kilometres is a security zone, but there are no laws that stipulate that people cannot shoot within this perimeter. But, says Mr. Dion, “There are always non-intelligent people out there.”
The following are the rules that the hunters are supposed to follow:
-Not to shoot on the road
-Not to shoot in parallel to the road
-Not to shoot across the road
-To shoot from the ditch at the least
Currently, only eight conservation officers cover the whole territory that is opened for caribou in Zones 22A and 22B. These zones cover many square kilometres of Northern Quebec. There are no Cree among the conservation staff at this time, though they expect to have more officers next year once the Cree Conservation Officers begin serving as provided for under the recent agreement signed with Quebec.
Another situation that came up at the time of research is the case of Edward Tapiatic. In 1999, he arrived at his camp only to find it occupied by a crowd of sleeping hunters. They had simply helped themselves to his cabin, meaning that they had broken in.
“I startled them, because they were sleeping at the time I walked in, they offered me money,” Tapiatic said. “However, I refused because I felt that they would do it again if I would have taken the money.”
Tapiatic took down their the license plate number, and the names of the individuals, and made a report with the Surete du Quebec, and that is the last that he heard of it.
Tapiatic added that the full impact of the caribou hunt is never fully known. During the spring thaw, he said, the stench is the greatest, and the carcasses of unclaimed caribou begin to show. Some lakes are littered with caribou parts and a few entire carcasses.
“This story needs to be told, because it is the Crees who are out on the land who are directly affected by this hunt, and it is not respectful of the animals that the Crees have depended on since time immemorial,” said Tapiatic.
He continued to talk about some nonnatives using helicopters and skidoos to chase the caribou. Some maiming, and leaving wounded animals to fend for themselves. Just a few more victims of the invasion of Eeyou Istchee.