It was in September that Indigenous Peoples belonging to the Algonquin Nation living in and around Barriere Lake, Quebec started the moose moratorium. Occurring in La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, in northern Quebec, local Anishinaabeg community members set up roadblocks leading into the hunting areas of the park, in hopes of assisting the local moose population. In recent years there has been a massive decline in the population, concerning many Indigenous people living in the area that the current population will not be able to make a bounce back due to the unsustainable hunting that occurs.
The importance of the local moose population makes a call to Indigenous tradition and practices, but also calls on a matter of survival for many Indigenous families in the area. “It’s a cultural genocide is how we look at it. Our closest grocery store is an hour and a half away from our community. We rely on the food source here,” said Barriere Lake councillor Charles Ratt, in an interview with CBC. However, the situation is far more dire than it seems.
It was for this reason that a local Indigenous Trent Student, who has requested to remain anonymous due to the severity of the issue and threats made to their life, spoke to Arthur on the topic. In an interview with Arthur staff, the Trent Student recalled the almost two months spent at the moratorium:
It was all very grass roots, this wasn’t even chief and council, this was different individuals from the community going to the access roads and setting up checkpoints. There was one particular gentleman from Kitigan Zibi, (Kitigan Zibi being an Anishinabeg reserve north of Gatineau and neighbouring the town of Maniwaki) who just came and set up his trailer at the main access point, that would be Kitigan Zibi space, and started the first checkpoint there. From there people recognized and really started to follow him.
When inquired about the issue regarding the moose population, the student recalled hearing this from an elder:
They spoke about, how, you know, 40-50 years ago, when you’d be going up that highway to Val-d’Or, every corner you would take you’d have to be careful because there were moose everywhere! Just that one area in the reserve, there were around 40,000 head of moose. Just in that one area, 40,000 head. And now today? In the whole territory we’re seeing no more than 4,000 head of moose. And last year, the hunters went in and killed over 1,000 of em. Repopulation this year didn’t even come back to the 1,000. We want a moratorium, we’re asking for at least 5 years, but we want 10, so the population can have a chance to come back.
The response of the local Anishinaabeg in the area was immense, with multiple checkpoints being set up throughout the access roads into the park. The Trent Student in question described their experience, saying:
In the big wildlife reserve, there’s the main road, and we had a block in the highway, but in the park they all had these vertical little roads named by the kilometer. So 44 kilometers in, off the main road, you get that road. 44 kilometers in the bush you get a road as big as a parking space. At the 44, I heard stories man, those guys barely slept, because of the amount of traffic that was trying to come in. At the 44th kilometer! On top of that, some of the different events, the police started escorting the hunters in privately. The SQ (The Sûreté du Québec, or the Quebec Provincial Police) started escorting hunters in to pass our checkpoints.
When questioned about local media response and support from off the reserve, the situation did not seem the best.
Quebec has their province lockdown for media. In just general, not because of the quarantine. The Quebec government has full control of all their media. Like CHGA-FM, TV. CBC Indigenous came, and they are neutral. I got to meet and go out for coffee with the reporter from APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network). She was amazing, she did her best. I can tell you the only positive reinforcement [sic] we had was from the premiere of the Green Party of Quebec, he came and spent time at the checkpoints, wrote to the premiere of Quebec, the Prime Minister, wrote to the Games and Fishery Minister of Quebec, and said it’s gotta stop. He witnessed firsthand the racism, and everything…he was the only one who had good enforcement [sic] reinforcement. Other than that, the Minister of Games and Fishery refused to recognize any racism.
While the moratorium was made in regards to protecting the moose in the area, it also became an issue filled with violent and political racism. There were multiple accounts of death threats made to the interviewee and their family, with them recalling accounts of other Indigenous land protectors getting hit and run over by the Quebecois hunters trying to enter the territory. One of these attacks was caught on camera by APTN.
Upon review of reports made by CBC, the reports did remain neutral, and often sought out quotes from chief and council rather than community members on the front lines. The latest report made by CBC revealed that a Quebec judge ordered the roadblocks to be taken down for 10 days. The report then goes on to question the ZEC Petawaga (zone d'exploitation contrôlée), a hunting and fishing association in Quebec. The ZEC is a controlled harvesting zone, is located in an area deeper in the park, and is described by the Trent student as a hunting rental process.
ZEC sells both annual licenses and temporary licenses. The prices for annual licenses only differentiate between residents of Quebec and Non-residents. Residents pay no more than $30 for an annual license, less than $20 for days that range between 1, 3, and 7. Further, hunters must purchase a tag for whatever they plan to hunt and take out of the park with them. The price for Moose? $75.12, for both a bull or a cow. There is also a discretion in the pricing that if the zone number is listed incorrectly, hunters can pay a mere $9.03 for a moose.
When questioned about the relationship between the ZEC and local Indigenous peoples, the interviewee described an impasse:
They just let the Indigenous people go in because if they don’t it would be all hell. In the ZECs there’s a lot of Indigenous Peoples' traditional territory, most of the time, but they don’t tell the people that pay to be there that they (Indigenous Peoples) even exist, or are supposed to be there. So the hunters pay for a zone and they can go in the zone and hunt whatever they have a tag for. And a lot of the time there are Indigenous people there. And they’re like ‘hey I paid for this zone, this is my zone’, and they start shooting at us! Because they don’t fucking know and they aren’t told, y’know? The government makes sure the ZECs don’t say shit about it, cause it would be admitting that it’s illegal, and that it’s (the territory) stolen. So it’s like they continue to let Indigenous peoples use their territory to shut us up. And because people don’t know how the ZECs function, they don’t do anything.
The problem that arises with the park and with the ZEC is that it is described as operating only on public owned land, however this is far from the case. The area in question is unceded territory, meaning that First Nations people never legally signed over or ceded their land to the Crown or to Canada. This means the traditional territory there belongs to the Anishinaabe. This is a similar case that is occurring in British Columbia, where the Wet’suwet’en are protesting the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline that would run through their unceded territory. When asked about the differences, the interviewee had this to say:
They’re the same because the territories are both unceded. The Canadian nation state has no jurisdiction there. The difference being is that Wet’suwet’en, there’s no buildings there, there’s no colonization there. It’s like way way up there- and they wanna run a pipeline through it. Absolutely terrible. The reality for us though, in Algonquin Aqi, is that the colonization has already happened. There are cities and towns all through. . . the parliament is on unceded Algonquin land. They’re justifying the means to do what they are because they’re like ‘well we’re already established here. This already exists here’.
Where is the legality in all of this? Canada has had it’s fair share of immoral practices against Indigenous peoples, with little to no laws actually defending Indigenous peoples from these atrocities. However, in 2016, Canada signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). According to Article 26 of UNDRIP, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used or required.” It also directs those who signed to give legal recognition in these territories, something that has yet to take place in Canada. It is worth mentioning that when UNDRIP was originally signed in 2007, Canada was one of four countries in the UN to vote against it, alongside the United States, New Zealand and Australia; four countries with their own histories of genocide against Indigenous peoples.
The moose being a recognized resource in their traditional territory means the Anishinaabe and others helping run the moratorium have first rights to the moose; not trophy hunters looking to busy idle hands during quarantine. When the UN and UNDRIP were brought up, the interviewee had this final note:
The UN! I said let’s go, go to the UN. This is unceded, we need educated ‘nishnaabe’s, and let’s go! Fuck the KKKanada! Canada signed onto UNDRIP! Print out the UNDRIP referendum, let’s go! Print it out! Flash this at all the fucking SQ…print it out in English and French and make everyone read it! Then let’s have a talk about our rights, and what we’re doing here. Then let’s make some decisions. Let’s go to the band office, let’s all sit in a nice circle, have a meeting with the UN, talk about what the fuck is going on, and get this shit public, get it worldwide, this is unceded territory, worldwide. Let’s go, supreme court. Fuck the Quebec Government, fuck Canada, let’s go to the supreme court right now. If we had done this from the beginning, the Quebec government wouldn’t have been able to say shit, SQ wouldn’t be able to say shit, the ZECs, the park, everything.
With moose season being over, the moose are safe for now; but come September 2021, communities have vowed to set up another moratorium if the province does not implement a protection plan to save the remaining moose in the territory. Ultimately the moratorium is both a racial and environmental issue. If there is not anything done to implement a legal moratorium on the moose, they will soon disappear from northern Quebec, and who knows when the majestic creature would set foot in the Anishinaabe territory again if something is not done.
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