Police are investigating at least two credible threats made against Anishnaabe land defenders at blockades on their territory over the weekend.
Officers removed one sport hunter from a camp north of Mont Laurier, Quebec, after he confronted a group defending their traditional territory against the moose hunt. Another hunter was warned to stay away from the camps by Route 117 after he threatened to run over Anishnaabe with his truck.
Quebec’s Crown prosecutor is reviewing the sport hunter’s file to determine whether criminal charges are warranted, according to the Sûreté du Québec.
These are just two incidents in a series of flare-ups that have broken out since the Algonquins of Barriere Lake erected blockades in the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve on Sept. 13. Sources also say one community member was clipped by a pickup truck while it tried to get past a checkpoint last week, and at another camp, a hunter threw a severed moose leg at the Anishnaabe.
The hunter tried to fight one of the protesters before storming off, according to witnesses.
“A vehicle is a deadly weapon when it’s used as such,” said Charles Ratt, a council chief with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. The park rangers “are doing nothing to diffuse the situation, they’re helping get hunters around our blockades through their system of logging roads.
“Once that happens, the hunters guard the roads so more can come through.”
A spokesperson for Quebec’s park and wildlife services, or SEPAQ, said workers are merely helping enforce hunting permits issued by the government.
“It’s in all of our interest to preserve the moose population,” said Simon Boivin, a SEPAQ spokesperson. “The best way to solve this is for the Anishnaabe to come to the negotiating table and work with the ministry. We’re working within quotas established by biologists who studied the moose population carefully.”
The crisis in La Vérandrye has forced SEPAQ to bring in more workers to the region, Boivin said. Anishnaabe land defenders say they’re being spied on and filmed by SEPAQ but, again, Boivin says park services are only on the ground to ensure sport hunters can access their camps.
The blockades — erected when the moose hunting season opened — are the latest tactic in a struggle led by Ratt and other Anishinaabe who’ve lived off the hunt for generations. Last year, they convinced Quebec to fund a study of the moose population in the sprawling forests between Mont Laurier and Val-d’Or.
A series of helicopter excursions over the reserve confirmed what traditional hunters have been saying for years: the moose are slowly dying out. In the 12 years since the last government study, the population in La Vérendrye dropped by 35 per cent to about 2,100 moose over 12,000 square kilometres.
The Anishnaabe lobbied for Quebec to impose a moratorium last year and repeated their demands coming into this season. Instead, the government issued 175 moose hunting permits, down from 250 last year.
Rather than wait another year, the Anishnaabe took matters into their own hands, blocking the roads with pickup trucks and wooden gates. What began as three camps mostly in the Barriere Lake area has grown to seven blockades and now includes the help of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinaabe near the Ontario border.
The group uses a private Facebook page to coordinate its actions, establish a supply line and warn each other about potential threats to the camps. There are talks of an eighth camp being erected near the Lac Simon First Nation just south of Val-d’Or.
The SQ has been monitoring each camp. A spokesperson for the police force says that despite “a few incidents,” the conflict has largely remained peaceful.
But as the resistance to sport hunting intensifies, a countermovement is emerging. An online petition that aims to pressure the Quebec government to step in and enforce the permits has gathered about 1,700 signatures.
A number of sport hunters have posted warnings on Facebook, claiming there “will be trouble” Friday if the blockades don’t come down. Some derisively refer to the Anishinaabe as “Indians” and write that they’ll mow down the protestors if they continue their actions.
One Anishinaabe woman said a group of hunters who managed to slip past the blockade said it “better be down” when they returned.
“That sounded like a threat to me,” said the woman, who did not want her name published.
For Ratt, who was raised in the bush, the issues at hand are simple.
“This isn’t an Indigenous cause, it’s about colonialism,” said Ratt, who hasn’t hunted moose in two years. “We’re saying our way of life is under threat, we’re saying the animals that kept us alive for generations and continue to keep us alive are under threat. Hunters are mad because they don’t get to practise a sport. Think about that.”