Hunting season may be over but negotiating for the future of moose hunting in Quebec’s La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve is only beginning.
Earlier this week, the Chiefs of the Algonquin Nation sat down with provincial Ministers, again repeating their demand for a five-year hunting moratorium.
Ian Lafreniere, Quebec’s recently-appointed minister of Indigenous affairs, says he’s prepared to come to the table and listen.
“For me, it’s extremely important what happened [Monday],” Lafreniere told reporters during a press conference this week.
“We were able to launch negotiations together to find a solution for the moose hunt,” he added.
The Algonquin Nation is still waiting on this year’s kill numbers. For years, they’ve insisted a moratorium is the only way to replenish the moose population dying off as a result of over-hunting.
An aerial survey conducted in early 2020 made note of only two moose in every 25 square km of the wildlife reserve which encompasses the Algonquin communities.
At the time, Forestry Minister Pierre Dufour cited the numbers as “concerning, but not critical.”
Dufour has maintained a complete moratorium is “in no way considered.
“It is essential to keep the dialogue going in order to come to a consensus,” Dufour said in a press release. “The success of this initiative by Minister Lafreniere demonstrates a true willingness of the parties to improve the relations between nations.”
However, the Quebec government has gone so far as to hire a professional mediator to supervise talks between the Algonquin Chiefs and provincial ministers.
They say they want to find “lasting solutions” to “avoid a repeat of the situation experienced in the fall.”
The decision by the Algonquin Nation to block access to trails in the wildlife reserve sparked a weeks-long saga of harassment, with sport hunters saying they paid for the right to cull a moose.
The communities in and around La Verendrye are food insecure, and rely on the seasonal moose hunt for sustenance.
A regular errand to the grocery store requires a two-hour trip outside of its limits.
Verna Polson, grand chief of the tribal council that represents Algonquin in Quebec, says misinformation about what the nation is standing for only heightened tensions in the area during hunting season.
“There was a lot of discrimination and slur words and whatnot throughout the fall,” Polson explained. “And for us to work with the Quebec government, and for Minister Lafreniere to reach our directly a couple of days after he was nominated for the seat – that shows really good faith.”
As a gesture of good faith, Quebec announced it will be postponing its random draw for hunting permits until March 2021, confirming there would be “no pressure applied during.”
Lafreniere replaced Sylvie D’Amours at the head of the Indigenous Affairs portfolio just a few weeks ago.
Since his appointment, he has committed to making one announcement per week to correct systemic wrongdoings impacting quality of life for First Nations and Inuit.
Also speaking during Tuesday’s press conference was Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, who listed the moose hunt as a priority issue alongside child welfare and health care reform.
Lafreniere believes that a permanent solution will be reached through “dialogue, understanding, and mutual respect.”
Polson says she believes Monday’s was only the first of several meetings they expect to have to discuss the issue.
“It’s going to be a quite challenging process, but like I’ve mentioned before – we’ve been ready a long time,” Polson told APTN in a phone interview Wednesday.
“This discussion needs to take place, and now we have a minister who’s willing to push this forward, and sit down – actually sit down and have the conversation and start the negotiation – which is fantastic for the Algonquin nation,” she added.