Cree officials ask goose hunters to stay close to home over COVID-19 concerns

As Cree territory's popular spring goose hunt approaches, officials in Northern Quebec are asking people not to go hunt in the South over fears of COVID-19.

The Cree Trappers Association and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay have issued a joint statement asking hunters to abandon plans to hunt in the South this year in places near Montreal and Ottawa, such as Alfred, Ontario. 

"We want our hunters to reconsider going hunting down South because there is a presence [of COVID-19] in Ottawa and our hunters go to Ottawa. There's also presence in Southern Quebec," said Fred Tomatuk, president of the Cree Trappers Association. 

Goose Break is a centuries-old tradition practiced by Cree in Northern Quebec, where communities all but close down for a few weeks, usually in May, to hunt returning geese and spend time with family and friends. 

Fred Tomatuk/Facebook

While there are no official numbers, Tomatuk said over the last five or ten years, the Southern goose hunt has become increasingly popular for Cree hunters

The concern is that this year, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, hunters may bring the virus back to Cree communities, said Tomatuk. 

"You may pick it up and transport it and pass it to your family and your community," said Tomatuk.

As of Monday, there were no cases of COVID-19 in Quebec Cree communities, but there were four cases in the Abitibi region, as well as one case in the community of Chibougamau, where many Cree go to shop. 

Both Tomatuk and officials at the CBHSSJB are encouraging hunters to get out on the land, but to stick close to home.

"Goose Break in the forest is probably the way to go," said Faisca Richer, director of public health at Cree Board of Health. "[But] it's safer to stay on the [Cree] territory." 

Stanley Saganash/Facebook

Richer added that Cree hunters who do go to their traditional camps should make sure they are able to communicate with the outside world and keep people up to date, should anyone start showing symptoms of COVID-19. 

Tomatuk agrees that going out on the land is a good way for Cree families to be protected from the virus.

"The hunting was always good there and we're recommending everybody to go to their individual camps," said Tomatuk, adding Cree hunters should be able to return to the Southern goose hunt next year.