The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador blasted a recent Quebec government commission on the protection and development of the woodland caribou population, saying the entire process disregarded the experience and knowledge of the Indigenous people that have been stewards of the land for generations.
The Quebec Independent Commission on Woodland and Mountain Caribou will soon wrap up its public consultation, and the AFNQL is unimpressed, saying the commission was merely a ‘ploy’ to ensure protection of precarious natural-resource development jobs and not the protection of caribou, which have been an important food source for generations of Indigenous people in the territory.
The AFNQL said ‘the Commission's mandate is to assess the economic impacts of caribou protection measures on the forest industry, rather than to take into account the impacts of logging on caribou and the rights of First Nations.’
Gespeg Mik'maw Chief Terry Shaw said the government’s inability – or lack of political will – to add Indigenous people to the commission is a violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
"Caribou are a vital resource for our First Nation. Any decisions or actions taken with respect to it must be discussed with First Nations,” he said. “By acting alone with its Commission, the Government of Quebec is not meeting its obligation to consult, nor is it respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."
As the commission wraps up its consultation phase, the AFNQL said the commission was a mere smokescreen to tie its conclusions to mining and natural-resource development rather than protection of the environment and its creatures.
‘The AFNQL reiterates that the Commission is nothing more than a scheme put together by the Government of Quebec to, once again, postpone the development and implementation of measures to protect the caribou and its habitat. In addition to being an inadequate forum for meaningful consultation with First Nations,’ the AFNQL said. ‘The Commission has many flaws, including the lack of prior involvement of First Nations, the lack of consideration of Indigenous socio-cultural issues and the exclusion of Indigenous experts in the selection of Commissioners.
The AFNQL decried the lack of urgency and the lack of concerns for the actual caribou habitat after thousands of years of observing and living amongst the caribou, saying the commission was more preoccupied with the economic impact of protecting the species, rather than concern for the species itself.
Ekuanitshit Innu Chief, Jean-Charles Piétacho said knowledge developed over thousands of years should not be disregarded, but yet, it has been.
“First Nations know their land, wildlife and plants better than anyone else,” he said. “Their millennial knowledge combined with the expertise of their own specialists have always allowed them to establish their own rules and practices to protect caribou. It is time for the Province of Quebec to realize this and take it into account."
For several First Nations, the caribou is at the core of their identities, their cultures, and their lifestyles. In that sense, they must be considered as experts in the management of caribou populations and their habitats, the AFNQL said.
‘As the commissioners spend the summer assessing and writing their report, logging and other development activities will carry on and perpetuate the degradation of the woodland and mountain caribou’s essential habitats. The Government of Quebec must understand that the species does not have the luxury to wait for another analysis that will inarguably reiterate courses of action that are already well-known,’ they said.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase