Assembly asks federal government to protect caribou
In 1955, the first census of the Val d’Or caribou population was conducted. At the time, the estimated count was 80. Today, there are just six.
“(The caribou) saved our people at one point,” said Lucien Wabanonik, chief of Lac-Simon First Nation. “It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our identity.”
Last Friday the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) met with Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, to discuss the plight of the caribou and what can be done to protect them.
The woodland caribou is categorized as a “vulnerable species” in the province of Quebec, and is considered “threatened” under the Canadian Species at Risk Act.
However, Quebec continues to grant logging permits in the area and allows for the construction of forestry industry roads, which pose an existential threat to the dwindling herd.
Caribou require an expansive habitat with minimal human activity, said Wabanonik.
Lance Haymond, chief of Kebaowek First Nation, said that it’s not just the Algonquin of Lac-Simon who are concerned about disappearing caribou populations: there are caribou on Innu and Mi’kmaq territory that are also threatened by industry and lack of protection from the government.
Neither Haymond nor Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Ross Montour have caribou herds on their territory, but both attended the February 24 meeting to support nations that do and to see what the Canadian government is prepared to do to protect the caribou and their habitat.
“We heard from minister Guilbeault in that meeting that the federal government is prepared to do what’s necessary to help First Nations support protecting the caribou, but it’s always a tough situation. We need to see action,” said Haymond.
According to Montour, Gulbeault made “no firm commitments” aside from pledging to take into account the concerns of First Nations.
“Ministers speak nice words, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to see some concrete action,” said Haymond.
The federal government announced Wednesday that they’ve reached a three-year agreement with the government of Manitoba to “support the conservation and recovery of Boreal Caribou in the province.” Environment and Climate Change Canada is committing nearly $1 million to the cause.
Just a couple provinces over, however, “Quebec is not really collaborating,” said Wabanonik.
“I really hope that the Canadian government does step up and take more of an aggressive approach in dealing with Quebec,” he continued.
Wabanonik, Haymond, and Montour all said that they’d like to see the province step up and take action in combating caribou decline, rather than exacerbating the issue by uprooting their habitat in the name of industry.
“It’s not just the caribou. It’s many other species all over the territories,” said Wabanonik.
“We need to come up with a strategy and unite as many nations as possible.”
Nicky Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door