Officials in Chisasibi, Que., along with traditional land users there, say stricter measures are needed to manage the dwindling Leaf River herd and stop unauthorized hunting of caribou by other Indigenous groups in Quebec.
The Cree Nation Government (CNG) is working on a caribou harvesting agreement for the Leaf River herd and consulted with traditional land users and local leaders in Chisasibi earlier this spring.
The main concern expressed at the meeting was with Indigenous hunters from other nations coming to the region to hunt without permission.
“You don’t just come here and kill ‘X’ amount of moose or caribou,” explained Chisasibi Deputy Chief Daisy House, adding local hunters say outsiders often come to the territory and kill too many caribou.
“Our custom has always been to take only what you need and share with your family and friends. For sustenance,” House said.
Chisasibi Chief Davey Bobbish agreed that local hunters know these rules and abide by them.
You don’t just come here and kill ‘X’ amount of caribou.– Daisy House, Chisasibi Deputy Chief
“For local hunters, I only hear that people kill what they need. I don’t see any excessive hunting,” said Bobbish, who says the declining herd needs to be closely monitored.
Quebec’s wildlife ministry puts the population of the Leaf River herd at 209,000 as of February 2018. That’s a drop from over 600,000 in the early 2000s.
The information gathered during the consultations in Chisasibi will be used to create a harvesting agreement that will then be presented to the Naskapi of Kawawaachikimach and the Inuit of Nunavik, other beneficiaries of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and the only other two Indigenous groups allowed to hunt the Leaf River herd.
Andrew Rupert, a hunter in Chisasibi is very concerned about the health of the Leaf River herd and says much more needs to be done by the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi, to stop outside Indigenous harvesting.
They just shoot anywhere.– Andrew Rupert, Chisasibi hunter
“They’re not supposed to hunt them but they still do,” said Rupert.
Rupert is the tallyman for trapline FG03 to the north of Chisasibi where the majority of harvesting took place this past year.
He says people were shooting caribou standing on the north coast road, which is forbidden.
“If you were a hunter all your life you would know how the blood goes once you shoot an animal. It sprays out so you know the caribou was standing right on the road when it was shot,” Rupert said.
Another concern Rupert has is safety, because the North Coast Road is private and there are about 25 family camps along it.
In Cree tradition, tallymen, or traditional Cree land stewards, must be consulted by visiting hunters because they are responsible for all harvesting activities on their trap lines, something Rupert says visitors don’t do.
“They just shoot anywhere,” Rupert said.
Deputy Chief Daisy House says many at the consultation shared Rupert’s concerns.
“Strangers might not know in which directions not to shoot,” House said.
“[These] are accidents waiting to happen because they don’t know the territory … and don’t know that there’s a cabin behind those trees.”
Another issue discussed at the meeting in Chisasibi was the fact that, since the closing of the sport hunt last year, there are still non-indigenous hunters coming to the territory and killing caribou.
“They hunt on the weekends. They know no one is going to go hunting on Sundays. That’s when they go,” Rupert said.
The illegal activity was first brought to his attention when he received calls from local land users reporting non-indigenous hunters in the region.
Rupert says one group was known to conservation officers and were also in the area during the fall moose hunt.
The Cree Trappers Association is continuing a consultation with local tallymen on the concerns raised at the meeting in March.
The Cree Nation Government hopes to be able to present a final draft of the agreement to local Chisasibi hunters by the end of the summer, according to Nadia Saganash, wildlife coordinator for the Cree Nation Government.
Chisasibi Deputy Chief, Daisy House says the proposed understanding would be discussed further at upcoming annual assemblies and that there is still time to consult before next year’s hunting season.