Cree leaders in Quebec have launched an extensive process of damage evaluation and created what they are calling a "Cree cabin damage registry," to help them document and respond to this summer's "catastrophic" wildfires, some of which are still burning.
Close to four million hectares of forest burned this summer in the northern region of Quebec, much of it in Cree territory, or a part of the province known as Jamésie, according to SOPFEU, the provincial fire prevention agency.
The fires prompted several evacuations in different Cree communities and led to "unprecedented" losses of hunting cabins and cultural infrastructure across a vast territory that's roughly the size of France.
"I think that this is a very, very large undertaking for the Cree Nation Government because the territory is huge," said Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty of the Cree Nation.
Mandy Gull-Masty is grand chief of the Cree nation. (Marie-Laure Josselin / Radio-Canada)
"All of the communities were impacted by forest fires, [a] majority of the tallymen and land users have also been impacted," she said.
Earlier this summer, Cree officials said it was impossible to know how many cabins had burned, but that they did know only 262 of them had any kind of insurance.
"Understandably, the gravity of these losses extends far beyond the material damages as our cabins and campsites encapsulate cherished memories and carry intergenerational, cultural and historical significance for the families affected, the entire Cree Nation, and our ancestral heritage," said Cree officials in a news release about the registry.
Support available to register
Land users are being asked to provide detailed information about their cabin, its location, whether it was built with public funding and whether it was insured, among other information.
The registry is a combined effort from the Cree Nation Government, the Cree Trappers Association, all of the Cree communities and the Niskamoon Corporation, a body which oversees agreements between Hydro-Québec and the Cree.
"We're really trying to collaborate together. The way that we want to bring this file forward and for us to have success in bringing solutions to the file, what we really need is input from people," said Gull-Masty.
They are asking land users and cabin owners to officially register, and ideally before Nov. 1. The register will continue to accept information after Nov. 1.
An aerial shot of charred forest and intense flames near Lac Mistassini in northern Quebec this summer. (Radio Canada)
The information is just the first step in a vast effort to quantify and get a precise picture of the real impacts of the wildfires, said Cree officials, with next steps including detailed evaluations of the damage to the land, forest cover and wildlife.
The registry will help Cree leaders come up with a real plan to help land users recover and rebuild.
"We want to find solutions to assist our members. We want to justify those solutions," said Gull-Masty.
This is your opportunity to participate in finding an outcome for the Cree Nation in terms of what happened this summer," said Gull-Masty.
Cree officials encourage every family to reach out to those they know who were affected by the wildfires and help them add their campsite to the registry. There is also support available at local Cree Trappers Association and Niskamoon offices.
There are still fires under observation or burning under control near Wemindji and Waskaganish, among other areas.