Cree trappers are reacting with caution to Mistissini’s tourism plan, says Thomas Coon, vice-chair of the Cree Trappers’ Association.
“I have a lot of concerns. I don’t mind sharing the resources, provided there is good management and control. We support tourism under certain conditions.”
Coon is a community representative sitting on a 26-member steering committee that has held consultations on Mistissini’s tourism plan over the last year. The plan’s success depends on the cooperation of the trappers, and Coon said the trappers are monitoring tourism developments “very closely.” If executed properly, he said tourism could be beneficial to trappers.
The plan would open up Mistissini territory to dozens of new eco-tourism and adventure tourism programs, including heli-skiing, scuba-diving, fly-fishing and white-water rafting. Tourists would also be able to spend time with trappers fishing and living on the land, and learn about Cree culture and traditions.
Coon said that one worry of some trappers is that they would be used as tourist guides without being paid. “I hope they don’t use them like Indian Affairs. They are experts in the land, in the water, in water routes, fishing and in winter uses of the land. We have to recognize that they are professional people and pay them accordingly. These people are not slaves. They have to make a living too.”
Coon also expressed fears that the tourism plan could backfire if anti-fur lobbyists go on excursions with trappers and learn information about Cree trapping practices. “I hope that what these tourists learn will not be used against us.”
He said this already happened when the Inuit allowed members of Greenpeace to come on whaling expeditions, and later found that the environmental group was using the information against the Inuit in its anti-whaling campaign. Coon said environmentalists could gain information about how Cree trappers hunt migratory birds and lobby American authorities to change the treaty with Canada on migratory birds. They could also use the information in their anti-fur campaign in Europe.
Coon also had mixed feelings about the Mistissini band’s idea of building a tannery so furs can be sold to tourists in the community, instead of being exported. He said a tannery could result in overharvesting, but that there may be benefits nonetheless. “For it to be feasible, it would need a certain quantity of fur to meet the tannery’s demand. I’m not sure we can support even the current rate of harvesting in Mistissini. But if it’s going to create jobs and gets subsidies from the government, it’s at least worth looking at.”
Coon also cautioned that the CTA cannot itself give the Mistissini band permission to use trappers’ cabins for tourism purposes. Each trapper will have to enter into a separate agreement with the Mistissini band on the use of their cabin. “It’s private property,” he said.