The first group of Wildlife Conservation Officers for the Cree nation have successfully completed their one-year program and are looking forward to being stationed in all nine Cree communities. Of the 10 students who graduated last week, eight are of Cree ancestry, one is Naskapi and one is non-native.

The funding for the program came under the Peace of the Brave and Section 28 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The training and hiring of Cree Conservation officers is seen as vital to the fulfillment of the new agreement where it concerns the exploitation, development and management of the natural resources in the James Bay region.

The dictionary says conserve means “to keep something in its original form and protect it from harm, loss or change.” As with most things, the reality of conservation is more complicated than a definition.

Conserving natural resources means balancing the environment and the interests of the many stakeholders—governments, the general public, Aboriginal groups, environmental advocacy groups and resource exploitation companies such as mining, forestry and oil. It means regulating and controlling activity to protect the natural resources for the use and enjoyment of future generations. It also means enforcing the general and provincial regulations established for the protection of fish, wildlife and other natural resources and collecting and relaying information on resource management. The new Cree conservation/protection officers have their work cut out for them.

Throughout the year, the students completed culturally sensitive training as well as a hands-on internship that lasted two months. The Cree Human Resources Department was working in conjunction with the Duchesney Institute near Quebec City to ensure that Cree beliefs, culture and values were not lost in the curriculum. Bella Loon, the administrative assistant at the CHRD, gave an example of the disposing of dead animals, which wildlife officers are supposed to discard. For the Cree, however, that would be a waste of food.

The CHRD was also involved in the recruitment of the students and the graduation ceremony. Held September 18 in Saint Catherine-de-la-Jacques Cartier, south east of Quebec City, it was quite a welcome happening. Chiefs and representatives from all 9 communities were present, including Chief Ted Moses, Vice Chief Paul Gull, and Naskapi Chief Elijah Einish. Also present were members of the Cree Regional Authority, the Cree School Board and the Minister of Parks and Wildlife Pierre Corbeil. This is only the first group in what could be many. The second group of would be Wildlife Protection Officers is ready to begin their yearlong training October 2.

The graduates are as follows: Benny Blacksmith from Ouje Bougoumou, Peter Longchap from Waswanipi, Adario Masty from Waswanipi, Samuel Moses from Eastmain, Roger Pepabano from Chisasibi, William P. Shecapio from Mistissini, Gordon Snowboy from Chisasibi, and Samuel Trapper from Mistissini, Frédéric Le Ber, and Jeremy Derek Einish from Naskapi.