Crees and Innus sign an agreement on caribou hunting in Cree territory

Cree and Innu chiefs from northern Quebec have signed a nation-to-nation agreement allowing Innu hunters to harvest 300 caribou this winter on traditional Cree territory east of Chisasibi.

The agreement is called Maamuu nisituhtimuwin/ Matinueu-mashinaikan atiku e uauinakanit, which translates to “mutual understanding” and was signed in a virtual ceremony on Monday afternoon.

“[It] is a historic event for both nations as it truly signals for the first time in history that indigenous groups are coming together and working on an approach to preservation and conservation based on cultural and traditional exchanges,” said the great Cree leader Mandy Gull-Masty. Chisasibi is located some 1,700 kilometers north of Montreal.

The 300 caribou from the Rivière aux Feuilles herd are “offered” to the nine communities of the Innu nation and come from a guaranteed Cree harvest of 850 caribou which is part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement signed in 1975. , the Crees said. officials.

Innu leaders said Monday the gesture was deeply appreciated.

A relationship of sharing that dates back to time immemorial.-Mike McKenzie, Chief of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam

“For us, this community hunt will not only meet a need for food security for our Elders, but also perpetuate a relationship of sharing that goes back to time immemorial,” said Chief Mike McKenzie, Chief of the Innu community. of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam and spokesperson for the nine Innu communities, in a press release.

Caribou in decline

Caribou populations have been in severe decline for many years, particularly the George River herd, which was the most present in the traditional territory of the Innu and Inuit in Quebec and Labrador.

This herd is reduced to just over 8,000 animals, only 1% of its 1990 population of over 800,000 animals. There has been a complete ban on hunting the George River Herd in Labrador and Quebec for several years.

Mike Mckenzie, Chief of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam, during the virtual signing on Monday. He said Cree’s gesture is deeply appreciated. (Grand Council of the Crees)

In 2019, Innu elders sent a letter to Cree leaders asking for help in preserving the important cultural practice of caribou hunting.

“They didn’t want to lose their cultural practices of hunting and everything that goes with it – the preparation of the meat, the preparation of the skin – all of those things are important cultural knowledge that needs to be passed on to young people,” Gull-said Masty.

Chisasibi Elders, land users and tallymen (Cree land stewards) heard this request, according to Cree leaders, and were instrumental in the success of the inter-nation discussions.

“Giving and sharing is part of our culture, especially with those in need,” said Chisasibi Chief Daisy House.

Specified protocols

The agreement signed on Monday sets out a series of protocols agreed to by both nations, including the requirement that a hunting party receive prior written permission from local authorities in Chisasibi, take on a recognized guide, and agree to conduct the hunt according to ” customs and traditional values”. “

This means conducting the hunt without waste, with respect for the animals and the environment and in the safety of people. Hunting parties must also agree that harvesting is solely for cultural, spiritual, educational or subsistence purposes.

The agreement was signed in a virtual ceremony by the chiefs of the nine Innu communities and Cree leaders. (Grand Council of the Crees)

The number of Leaf River herds has also decreased

The numbers of the Rivière aux Feuilles herd, which is the main herd present on the traditional territory of Chisasibi, have been stable at approximately 190,000 individuals for several years. But that’s still a significant drop from 2000, when the number was over 600,000. Quebec closed sport hunting of the Leaf River herd in 2018.

“Although the more abundant Leaf River herd may provide some access to caribou, the herd remains vulnerable. We have to be very careful and continue working together to make sure our harvest is managed sustainably,” Gull-Masty said.

Cree officials expect an update on the status of the Leaf River herd later this year and say the number of caribou shared with Innu hunting groups could change from year to year.

Leaf River caribou near the Cree community of Chisasibi on November 16, 2020. (L. George Pachanos)

The agreement took several years to prepare. In 2013, several Aboriginal nations participated in the creation of the Indigenous round table on the caribou of the Ungava Peninsula (UPCART). And in 2017, the group signed a conservation strategy for the Ungava caribou, including the Rivière George and Rivière aux Feuilles herds.

But on the ground, there were tensions.

In 2018, caribou harvested in Quebec were seized on their way to Innu territory by Quebec wildlife officers.

And last year, Cree leaders have expressed concern about an unauthorized Innu hunting group that harvested an alleged 280 caribou on the lands east of Chisasibi covered by the JBNQA.

Gull-Masty said she was frustrated by the lack of help on the file from the Quebec government and says that with this agreement, they have found a more sustainable and culturally relevant solution.

“I think it’s really going back to our roots and using those cultural approaches to improve our relationships with other nations,” Gull-Masty said.

Cree Grand Chie Mandy Gull-Masty says the deal is a return to traditional ways. (Grand Council of the Crees)

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