After an agreement-in-principle regarding a moose hunting moratorium was reached with the Quebec government late last week, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake have decided they will not be rushing to sign on the dotted line.
In a press release issued April 6, Barriere Lake Chief Tony Wawatie said he “will not be signing any agreement based on these negotiations with other Algonquin Chiefs and a Tribal Council [his] community doesn’t even belong to.
“I went into a conference call with the Algonquin chiefs, and I said ‘you know, I’m here to pick up information,’” Wawatie told APTN News. “As you know, we’re in the middle of transition under lots of piles that have to be dealt with. And seeing it was also the end of the fiscal year… we were trying to manage all that, and it was pouring off of our plates.
“One of the things I had said to the Chiefs was that I find it unfair the community – or at least not me, I wasn’t aware of what was going on with this moose moratorium. And I wasn’t comfortable agreeing to such a process.”
For two years, Algonquin communities in Quebec campaigned and demonstrated in support of a pause on sport hunting after a moose population survey revealed numbers were sharply declining.
Last Friday, just before the long Easter weekend, Quebec issued a press release stating the parties had found common ground, without divulging exact details about the proposed agreement.
“The process will take place over four years and will begin with a moratorium that will allow a proper assessment of the state of the moose situation through studies carried out by mutual agreement,” reads the April 4 release from Quebec’s Indigenous Affairs Ministry.
According to Quebec, under the proposed agreement, moose population numbers are expected to stabilize by 2024.
But before formally putting pen to paper, on Tuesday, Wawatie and the newly-elected band council at Barriere Lake – a community situated at the heart of the La Verendrye Wildlife reserve – decided to switch gears.
“[The agreement-in-principle] doesn’t protect my community’s members, families, territories – it’s all free for grabs for anyone who comes in there. There’s no protective measures in place, unless we revive the [Integrated Resource Management Plan],” according to Wawatie.
Because of La Verendrye’s richness in natural resources, including wildlife, medicines, and possibly minerals, Wawatie feels the Algonquin Nation should instead revive a draft agreement reached with Quebec in 2017.
The “Barriere Lake-Quebec Agreement on an Integrated Resource Management Plan for Forests and Wildlife” was never signed but was meant to protect the territory from other forms of exploitation.
“That really questions how our moose habitat will be affected by all these developments, once extraction – once the projects – begin. Mining especially,” Wawatie explained.
“It’s for sure going to destroy the habitat, and it’s going to chase the moose away. That’s some of the things we need to look at.”
Wawatie was instrumental in helping to formulate that plan and says reviving it was one of his election campaign promises.
In their official response to Quebec’s offer, Barriere Lake said the 2017 agreement “provides for real social, cultural, and economic benefits for our community members.”
But not everyone agrees.
Former Barriere Lake Councillor Charles Ratt – the lead negotiator on the moose file – was unavailable for an interview before deadline.
However, in a message, Ratt said details of the proposed agreement have not yet been made public or put in the hands of community members.
He told APTN News, “it was blindly a [Chief and Council] decision to opt out of negotiations.
“We will await [Algonquins of Barriere Lake] to request for a presentation from the negotiating team as other communities have done,” Ratt wrote in a message.
The Algonquin Anishnabeg Nation Tribal Council, a group uniting other Algonquin communities involved in the discussions with Quebec, declined to comment on Wawatie’s decision to withold.
APTN News went to Quebec’s Indigenous Affairs Ministry to get reaction and more information on next steps. In response, a Ministry spokesperson said discussions are ongoing, and Quebec “does not want to negotiate in a public sphere.
“We want to come to an agreement with the communities for the sake of living together,” their emailed statement reads. “No one wants to relive a situation like that of last fall.”
According to Indigenous Affairs, the Algonquin Nation has until April 15 to consult their community members about the proposed agreement and report back.
Wawatie, for his part, insists he’s thinking for the benefit of Barriere Lake – and beyond.
“For now, the community is supporting this side, with the integrated resource management plan, but the other side is like ‘okay, let’s give this a chance,’” he added.
“Sure, let’s give this a chance – but let’s not forget what we’ve done too.”