North

Cree Nation identifies 30 per cent of its territory in conservation wish list

The Cree Nation Government has submitted a proposal for conservation under Quebec's Plan Nord development strategy. The proposed areas represent a territory roughly the size of Ireland, about 80,000 square kilometres.

Proposed areas represent a territory roughly the size of Ireland, about 80,000 square kilometres

The Cree Nation has identified more than 80,000 square kilometres of its territory it would like to see protected from development, under the Plan Nord. (Eeyou Conservation)

After several years of work and consultation, the Cree Nation Government has identified 30 per cent of its territory it wants to see protected from development, at least in part.

When brought together, the proposed areas represent a territory roughly the size of Ireland, about 80,000 square kilometres, and are scattered throughout the Cree Nation. 

We see so much development.- Mandy Gull, deputy grand chief Cree Nation

It was submitted to the Quebec Government at the end of November as the Cree proposal for the province's Plan Nord conservation target.

Cree deputy grand chief Mandy Gull says she's happy with the process undertaken to identify the areas the Cree would like to see protected. (Susan Bell)

The northern development strategy known as Plan Nord has laid out a target of protecting 20 per cent of the territory north of the 49th parallel in the province by the year 2020. By 2035, the target is 50 per cent.

"We see so much development," said Cree deputy grand chief Mandy Gull, who is responsible for the Cree Nation conservation file.

"We have to really create these spaces for protection to ensure Cree youth can go and hunt, fish and trap in areas that haven't been subject to any kind of presence.

"It's vital to our own culture," said Gull.

Chosen by communities

The areas the Cree Nation would like to see protected were chosen by nine of the 10 Cree communities and were identified over many years of work analyzing watersheds, biodiversity and a series of consultations with local communities and tallymen, or Cree land stewards, according to Gull. 

"They identified areas that were culturally important — campsites, grave sites and fish spawning sites," said Gull, adding the work brought together scientific data and Cree knowledge about culturally significant sites and species.

Eeyou Conservation consulted with traditional land users to collect data about important cultural sites in Eeyou Istchee. (Eeyou Conservation)

The protected areas co-ordinator for the Cree Nation Government, Chantal Otter Tétreault, worked in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy of Canada using a computer model where all of the cultural and watershed information was layered with additional information about plants, animals, soil types, geology, elevation, climate and land cover.

The computer model then generated various suggested areas for protection near each of the Cree communities. The proposals were then submitted to the individual communities to identify the areas that best suited their needs.

"I think it was very advanced in terms of what we were trying to do, marry types of data sets together," said Gull. 

Eeyou Conservation along with the Nature Conservancy of Canada used a computer model to layer scientific data and cultural information from tallymen, or Cree land stewards. (Eeyou Conservation)

Negotiations with Quebec

Gull says discussions and negotiations with Quebec will likely begin in the early part of 2019 to meet the 2020 target.

"We are using our own set of data to determine the Cree needs for protection," said Gull. "On the Quebec side they are really looking at protecting as much biodiversity as possible. They are trying to capture a little bit of everything."

Using an example of a grocery store, Gull says Quebec is trying to have something from every aisle of the grocery store.

"As much as we support that, you have to realize that Cree tend to eat very heavily from the meat and the fowl and the fish section," said Gull, adding that not recognizing that could negatively impact the ability of Cree to hunt.

The areas the Cree Nation would like to see protected are close to nine of the 10 Cree communities and were identified over many years of work analyzing watersheds and biodiversity. (Greenpeace)

"You are forcing us to eat from parts of the grocery store that we would never eat from," said Gull. "I want to make sure that future Cree are able to hunt, fish and trap."

Gull says she is happy with work that has been done on the Cree side and is looking forward to the start of negotiations with Quebec.