North

Emergency fund available to Cree land users for 2nd year

For the second year in a row, Cree officials in Quebec are making an emergency fund available to help Cree families get to their bush camps this spring for Goose Break. 

COVID-19 and unsafe ice conditions among reasons behind $1.7 million fund

Hilton John Weapenicappo, 13, opened the Conn River goose hunt 2020. Continued risks because of COVID-19 variants, unsafe ice conditions and a younger population ineligible for the vaccine are among the reasons why officials at Niskamoon Corporation and Cree Trappers' Association have decided to offer an emergency fund for a second spring. (Submitted by Sidney Weappenicappo)

For the second year in a row, Cree officials in Quebec are making an emergency fund available to help Cree families get to their bush camps this spring for Goose Break. 

The Emergency Assistance Program for Cree Land Users was first made available last year to help protect the population from COVID-19. 

This year, more than $1.7 million dollars is being made available by Niskamoon Corporation, a body which oversees agreements between Hydro-Québec and the Cree. The fund will be administered by the Cree Trappers' Association.

"The growth of variants in the South means that we are still not out of the woods with regards to COVID," wrote Eli Moore, communication officer with Niskamoon Corporation in an email response to questions. 

Earlier this spring, the Cree Trappers' Association asked members to avoid heading south for the spring goose hunt because of the risk of COVID-19 variants that have been shown to be more transmissible and potentially more deadly.  

Ice conditions also a concern

Each spring Cree families in northern Quebec head to goose camps like this one to hunt returning geese. (Submitted by Roger Orr)

Goose Break is an annual tradition in the Cree communities where families head out to hunt returning geese in the spring.

The decision to make the emergency fund available again this year was also a way to ensure people could get to their goose camps safely this year, given the early spring melt, said Moore.

"Ice conditions are very unsafe so these support measures are meant to provide transportation to people so they don't travel in unsafe and hazardous areas," he wrote. 

According to the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, 85 per cent of those eligible in the Cree communities have received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine and 61 per cent have received their second dose as of April 21. 

High percentage of young people

But with a high percentage of young people in the Cree communities, and therefore ineligible for the vaccine, Niskamoon Corporation and Cree Trappers' Association decided it was important to offer the emergency funding again this year. 

"The vaccine is not yet approved for underage people," wrote Moore. "Such that a large proportion of the population is still exposed to the virus."

Statistics Canada data shows that in 2017, just over 40 per cent of the Cree population was 19 years old or younger.  

The emergency fund is being administered through local Cree Trappers' Association offices.

Lorraine Weapenicappo, left, helps to pluck the geese at a family goose camp in northern Quebec in this file photo. (Submitted by Sidney Weapenicappo)

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