Amid dwindling moose population, First Nations continue to defend park from Quebec hunters
MONTREAL -- The Algonquins of Barriere Lake and Kitigan Zibi say there's a decline in the moose population that's putting their communities at risk -- so they set up check points in La Verendrye park during moose hunting season.
"You're asking us to put on the table our livelihood, our way of life, our sustainability to our people vs. a privilege which is sports hunting," said Charles Ratt, an Algonquins of Barriere Lake band council member.
The blockades were contentious and ignited tensions between hunters and Algonquins. They came down at the end of the hunting season in October, but now the pressure has moved to the negotiating table.
"There have been strong commitment for meeting with all chiefs," said Ian Lafreniere, Quebec's minister of Indigenous affairs.
"It's about time we see results, that we see action," Premier Francois Legault added.
An aerial survey done in January and February showed there are currently approximately two moose per 10 square kilometres. In 2008, that number was three.
The ministry of forestry, wildlife and parks said the drop was not dramatic enough to justify a moratorium -- but as a sign of good faith, the province has pushed back the lottery for sport hunting permits until the spring.
And there's already been a first meeting with Lafreniere.
"He's trying," Rat said. "I give him that."
But there's no deal yet.
The nearest grocery store to Barriere Lake community is an hour and a half away -- and many rely on moose meat.
Without an agreement, blockades will be back next year.
"Our community is very well... is prepared to keep doing this until our demands are met," Ratt said.
"His main concern was more about the racist comments and the division it's causing between the sport hunters and the Algonquins, but I think he's missing the bigger picture," he added.
They hope by this time next year there will be fewer barricades and more moose.