I thank the committee for having invited the Grand Council to participate here today. We were rather unsure about the goal of this meeting, but in any case we can give a characterization of the situation in northern Quebec.
Eeyou Istchee covers 339,698 square kilometres in James Bay, Quebec. Representing 22% of the province of Quebec, it stretches from the coast of James Bay and Hudson Bay to the height of land at the interior plateau. The territory is rich with a diverse range of ecosystem. It has marine waters, islands offshore, inland rivers, lakes, wetlands, hills and highlands, forest, taiga and tundra, all of which sustain a multitude of wildlife species, such as the woodland caribou, barren ground caribou, moose, black bear, polar bear, beluga, freshwater seals, and other types of fish—ciscoes, trout, prehistoric sturgeon—and many types of waterfowl colonies.
The territory and its resources are shared between the Crees and the Jamesian populations. The Crees slightly outnumber the Jamesian population. There are about 17,000 Crees. The Jamesians themselves live in seven localities in the southern part of the territory, while the Cree population is dispersed over the whole territory in 10 communities.
For thousands of years the Crees have depended on the land and have lived within the cycles of natural life. They understand and respect the animals hunted, and this was fundamental for their survival. The animal has a spirit and will offer it to the hunter. It gives itself to the hunter to ensure survival of the people, who in turn must show respect for the animal in order for the animal's soul to be reborn. Respect for the animal is an important component throughout the process of hunting and the life of a hunter, and it is shown in many ways, but most importantly, respect is shown by sharing within the human society, harvesting only what is needed and what the population can handle, and ensuring that all parts of the animal are used. These principles have guided the Cree hunters and trappers in their use and management of their lands.
There are approximately 300 family hunting territories, which cover the whole of the 330,000 square kilometres. Each has a tally man in charge of the harvesting activities. Through their presence and continued observation of the land, along with the knowledge transmitted from past generations, they have acquired a wealth of information, providing important indicators with respect to animal trends, population trends, reproductive success, health, animal behaviour, use of habitat by those animals, and more. The role of the stewards and their management of the hunting territories are well recognized by Cree society and are protected by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed in 1975, and it was protected by the Canadian Constitution in 1982 as a treaty. As part of this historic agreement, the hunting, fishing, and trapping regime was established, as well as the income security program for hunters and trappers and the Cree Trappers' Association. These three institutions have played an important part in supporting our hunters and trappers and in preserving the Cree way of life, which strongly depends on a healthy wildlife population.
The hunting, fishing, and trapping regime basically involves co-management by the Crees, Inuit, Naskapi, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec, who participate in making recommendations and in certain cases decisions that bind the minister.
Some of the key provisions of the regime are as follows.
The right to harvest any species of wildlife at any time, anywhere in the territory, is a Cree right except in settled areas.
The right to harvest is subject to the principle of conservation, which is the pursuit of the optimum natural productivity of living resources and the protection of the ecological systems of the territory so as to protect endangered species and to ensure, primarily, the continuance of the traditional pursuits of native people, and secondarily, the satisfaction of the needs of non-native people for sport hunting and fishing.
It recognizes the family hunting territories, also referred to as traplines.
It also recognizes the exclusive trapping rights over the whole territory by the Crees and the exclusive use by the Crees of certain species. There are exemptions to that. Caribou, moose, and game fish are all shared by the native and non-native community, whereas other things like whitefish, sturgeon, beaver, and those types of animals that were more used in the traditional way of life of the Crees are exclusively harvested by the Crees.
The priority of subsistence harvest over sport and commercial harvest is another element of this regime.
It also establishes the exclusive rights to commercial harvesting. In certain respects the Crees also have a right to first refusal for certain projects, although I believe that right is expired now. There was a 20-year limit on it.
It also establishes the exclusive rights of the Crees on category II land and their priority on category III land for establishing outfitting operations.
The Cree hunters and trappers income security program requires the head of the family to be in the bush for 120 days per year. It covers his or her family, as well. The program paid beneficiaries a total of $23 million in 2012-13, which represented 68% of the families' incomes. There are 1,357 beneficiary units enrolled in the program. The average amount of benefits per unit for all the communities in 2012-13 was $17,016. These family units total 1,904 adults and 771 children, representing 15% of the population.
Hunting has gone from being the only source of income in the 1950s to being a source of income that is partially supported by welfare payments, and so on, in the 1960s and up to the coming of the agreement. Then this program clicked in. If you look at it in terms of the economy, the importance of fur has gone from being their only source of cash and also a source of food, to the cash part of it representing less than 1% of the Cree economy today. The Crees are involved in mining and delivery of education and health services. They're also entrepreneurs and have started many businesses.
The Cree Trappers' Association was created to assist and promote the pursuit of traditional activities through the implementation of various programs and services. Here are some of the programs they provide. They maintain a voluntary harvest registry system for fur-bearing animals and the harvest of big game. They coordinate and participate in various studies through the collection of information. There is a moose jaw study, which indicates something about the health of the moose population. There is a harvest data for migratory birds, various traditional knowledge studies, and climate change studies, which are tracked by the Cree Trappers' Association. If you go to their website you'll see there's a portal that shows the observations that have been made by Cree trappers in climate change.
They contribute to the enforcement of the regime through the training of tally men as auxiliary game wardens and participate in the training of Cree wildlife protection officers. They contribute to the recovery efforts of various species, such as woodland caribou, freshwater seals, and lake sturgeon, through awareness building and the collection of information and observations. Conducting and training various safety initiatives is another role of the association, such as firearms safety and boat safety. Ski-Doo safety is another issue. They have other programs to help the trappers get through their lives.
All I can say is that it's not just those who are members of the Cree Trappers' Association who go out hunting, fishing, and trapping. The whole society does, as well as the Jamesian society. Many of those people go.
One person commented to me, “I work to keep my family and to be able to go out on the land whenever I can.” I think that's the attitude that permeates the community.