The Algonquin Nation is facing a legal setback in its effort to protect the vulnerable moose population in one of Quebec’s largest wildlife reserves.
ZEC Petawaga, a hunting and fishing association located in Mont-Laurier – two hours due north of Ottawa – filed a request for an injunction in Quebec Superior Court earlier this week.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Judge Marie-Josée Bédard ruled in the outfitter’s favour.
The communities of Kitigan Zibi, Barriere Lake, Lac Simon, and Kitcisakik – along with their band council chiefs – were named in the suit.
ZEC originally asked the court to order the dismantling of nine Algonquin camps – or in the outfitter’s words, “barricades” – erected along the stretch of Hwy 117 spanning the La Verendrye Faunic Reserve.
According to the ruling, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg cannot obstruct the entrance to a central trail at Clova Road for 10 days.
The camp in question, Clova Road, is the first to appear along Highway 117 inside La Verendrye. According to ZEC’s attorney, nearly half of the wildlife reserve’s land is accessible via this entrance.
For the time being, the other eight camps along the highway can continue operating.
Kitigan Zibi Chief Dylan Whiteduck says provincial police, the Surete du Quebec, have not yet handed copies of the order to people at Clova Road.
Whiteduck says he delivered news of the injunction order to the camps himself, to try and ease concerns.
“It’s unfortunate, but not surprising,” Whiteduck told APTN News Thursday. “Quebec and the court system has always, you know, we’ve always had that uphill battle. Many of our people face these struggles with our court system.
“We have to remember to stay respectful, stay united, and stay strong, and be proud, because we did do our best. We did try to fight back, and we thought we had some good points,” he added. “But this doesn’t mean it’s quite over.”
For the second year running, the Algonquin Nation is demanding that the Quebec government implement a moratorium on moose hunting in order to replenish the overall population in the wildlife reserve.
They’ve held peaceful vigil over the camps for the last three weeks, despite mounting pressure and harassment from sports hunters hoping to access the trails.
Quebec recently issued a press release offering refunds to hunters who purchased hunting tags for La Verendrye, but who have been unable to travel into the bush.
Minister of Forests Pierre Dufour, however, has firmly stated that the requested five-year pause on sport hunting is “by no means considered.”
An aerial survey conducted by Quebec earlier this year revealed “concerning” moose numbers, but not “critical” ones, according to Dufour.
As a concession, Quebec says they issued 30 per cent fewer sport hunting tags in the wildlife reserve for 2020.
But the killing of cows and calves – as well as bulls – is rupturing a delicate ecosystem already threatened by government-ordered clear-cutting, according to Algonquin community members.
Approximately three to four moose would feed the entire community of Barriere Lake for a year, says Chief Casey Ratt.
Ratt added that sports hunters cull anywhere between 80 and 100 moose in La Verendrye per season.
Human rights group Amnesty International has also weighed in on the dispute, calling on the federal government – mainly Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations – to intervene and “firmly defend” the role of Indigenous people in decision-making that concerns them.
“They also need to lend support to Indigenous peoples when they’re confronted with negative reactions,” reads Amnesty’s open letter, released last week.
Meanwhile, the Algonquin Nation is hoping police will not move to dismantle the camps by force.
“We hope that it doesn’t come to that. We hope that we’re given adequate time – and if they do enforce the injunction on our people, that they do it peacefully and not in a harmful way that doesn’t affect our mental wellbeing,” Whiteduck added.
The COVID-19 pandemic, according to Whiteduck, is only heightening the sense of urgency on the territory.
“The Quebec government is telling people to stay home, but is telling everyone else to go hunt. So they’re jeopardizing the lives of people within this region here,” he explained.
“It’s a catch 22 here – a catch 2020, actually – [because] it doesn’t make sense to allow the hunters to come.”
Leaders and community members will be meeting Thursday night to discuss next moves.