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Why Algonquins protest to protect moose

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Algonquin defenders Cheryl Nottaway, Angelique Papatie, Tina Nottaway, Lisa Thomas, Kevin Decoursay, Angie Maranda and Shannon Chief. Image: Jonny Wright

More than 200 kilometres north of Chelsea, the Algonquins of Barrière Lake have set up peaceful camps and blockades to enforce a moratorium on moose hunting on their territory at La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve.

Moose populations are rapidly declining. After repeated requests to implement a moratorium were ignored by the Quebec government, Algonquins of Barrière Lake are taking a stand to protect the moose.  

On behalf of the La Pêche Coalition for a Green New Deal, I drove up to Camp Larouche, one of nine camps, on Sunday to drop off donated supplies. Indigenous knowledge and sovereignty are central to a Green New Deal. The climate crisis is altering ecosystems which in turn affect moose populations.

La Pêche is on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin territory. Members of Barrière Lake and nearby Kitigan Zibi have called out for support from people in the Outaouais region and beyond. 

I interviewed Shannon Chief, one of the lead organizers at Camp Larouche who is from Barrière Lake.

Emma Lui (EL): Why are Algonquins of Barrière Lake calling for a moose moratorium?

Shannon Chief (SC): Moose populations decreased a lot in the last few years. Moose are being hunted faster than they're being born. They aren't calving and logging has left moose unprotected from predators.

Moose is the main food source for our people. I'm a mother and grandmother and I worry about what my children and my grandchildren are going to hunt and eat if we don't find a way to protect the moose population.

Politics have been dividing our people for so long, so it's hard to have our community together. But the food we eat is something that connects us all.

EL: Why have camps and blockades been set up?

SC: Last year, our people gave out pamphlets to the hunters about the declining moose population. We tried to get Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq) to implement a moratorium. Sépaq didn't do anything except decrease the numbers of permits from 250 to 175.

So, we set up the camps and blockades on September 13 to stop trophy hunters. We don't want to go to war with non-Indigenous people. We're doing this because we need to protect the moose. So, we're blocking the roads to stop trophy hunters from going into the park during hunting season until October 12.

EL: How long has hunting been allowed in the area?

SC: La Vérendrye used to be a protected park and hunting wasn't allowed. Our elders talk about times when moose were abundant on our territory. But then the Quebec government allowed sport hunting in the 1960s.

The government has a narrow focus on the money they make from moose hunting. We're asking Sépaq to refund hunters.

Canadian and Québec governments are so focused on growing their economies. We're being privatized in every way. They have come in to take the trees. They have come in to mine. They want to build pipelines. And now they are threatening the moose.

EL: How have Algonquins historically managed the moose population?

SC: When we hunt, we carefully manage the moose population. We don't kill calves or females. We don't put the head of the moose on our car showing off what we kill. We often find moose headless. When our people eat moose, we use all parts. One moose feeds 5-6 families for a whole year. We're grateful for this animal sacrificing its life for us to live. We use the hide for art and crafts. We teach our kids to tan.

Our community harvests 20-25 moose for food in a year. Sépaq hunters harvest 80-90 moose during the four-week hunting season.

Indigenous peoples have hunting rights under the treaties and the Constitution Act. But non-Indigenous people don't always know or understand this. It gets very tense when non-Indigenous people see our people hunting.

EL: What are the Quebec government's and hunters' responses to the blockades?

SC: The government has condemned our blockades. Sépaq won't refund the hunters. [MNA for Abitibi-Est and Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks Pierre] Dufour sees non-Indigenous hunters as more important than the moose and will not give us a moratorium this year or next year.

Dufour says he is open to discussion, but also said he is open to calling on public security to give hunters access. Indigenous peoples see this all over Turtle Island. Governments bring in police to protect their financial interests without respecting their treaty obligations.

Most hunters are listening and leave peacefully but there have been some tense interactions and racist and threatening posts online.

EL: What can non-Indigenous people do to support the Moose Moratorium?

SC: They can sign the petition Protect the Moose in La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve on change.org, make a donation to the Facebook campaign or send an etransfer to [email protected]. We need them to contact the government -- write or call their local MNA and contact MFFP by writing ([email protected]) or calling (418.643.7295).

Emma Lui is co-founder of the La Pêche Coalition for a Green New Deal and a member of Cooperative Biblioterre. This article originally appeared in print in The Low Down.

Image: Jonny Wright

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