The last of the checkpoints set up throughout Quebec's La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve that were turning away moose hunters came down over the weekend, but Anishinaabe (Algonquin) leadership say the issue is far from resolved.
Talks with government officials continue, said Algonquins of Barriere Lake Chief Casey Ratt. The community is calling for a five-year ban on sports hunting in the provincial wildlife reserve, as well as for a moose study to be conducted.
"Whether it's ticks, forestry, sports hunting, or climate change, we still have to find out what's causing the decline," said Ratt.
Concerned about a decline in the moose population, the community took the matter into its own hands when hunting season opened on Sept. 14. Checkpoints were set up in the wildlife reserve, located about 300 kilometres northwest of Montreal, at junctions off Route 117 by members of Barriere Lake but also Kitigan Zibi, Lac-Simon, and Kitcisakik.
Rae-Anna Whiteduck, a community member from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, spent time at checkpoint camps on Lépine-Clova road. She said her grandparents told her it was once considered a dangerous road because of the many moose sightings.
"It took me three and a half weeks to see my first moose ever," she said.
Most checkpoints came down after the hunting season ended on Oct. 13, with the last removed on Sunday when hunting ended in the nearby controlled harvesting zone managed by the Hunting and Fishing Association of the Mont-Laurier region.
"We know we pissed off a lot of people this year but we're prepared to do what we need to do for the next five years if we need to," said Whiteduck.
"We're going to be out there, and we're going to do what we can to save the moose in a peaceful way."
Victoria Marchard, a community member from Kitigan Zibi and Long Point First Nation who also spent time on the frontline, had similar sentiments.
"There's an inherent obligation to give back to the community," she said.
Both Whiteduck and Marchard said they feel like they made an impact, despite tensions with some hunters over the course of the last month and a half.
The Sûreté du Québec said over 40 police reports have been made in relation to the moose moratorium, all of which are still under investigation.
"You kind of get distraught seeing all the moose heads fly by on the highway; they would drop moose legs off to taunt us. Just those things alone made me think 'are we even making a difference?' But, after talking with our elders and fellow frontliners, 100 per cent we made a difference," said Marchard.
Sepaq, the provincial government agency that manages the park, releases its hunting statistics next month. Ratt said he also expects the organization to issue a report next month to the government that will determine the number of tags issued next year.
The province's Indigenous affairs secretariat said its new minister Ian Lafrenière is in regular communication with the Anishinabeg communities, as well as hunting and outfitter associations, to find common ground.
"The issue at La Vérendrye Park is much broader than moose hunting alone and the problem unfortunately will not go away with the end of hunting season," a statement from the secretariat said.
"These claims date back decades ago and the time has come to tackle them head-on and find permanent solutions. This is precisely what Minister Lafrenière wants to do."
Ratt said the communities are standing firm on their call for a five-year hunting moratorium.
"It's always been a slaughter of moose every fall for the last 26 years," he said.
"Our community will demand a five-year moratorium. We're not backing down on anything and whether Quebec takes us seriously or not, we'll be there again next year."