The politics of woodland struggle

Michael
Michael Johansen
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Caribou are getting killed, Quebec Innu look like the bad guys and the Quebec government is losing face.



The only ones getting anything good out of the hunt of the Joir River animals south of Minipi Lake is the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.




Caribou are getting killed, Quebec Innu look like the bad guys and the Quebec government is losing face.



The only ones getting anything good out of the hunt of the Joir River animals south of Minipi Lake is the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.



The government has good reason for wanting to stop anyone from hunting out that group of caribou. Its existence is a sign that the threatened Mealy Mountain herd is beginning to recover and the group's annihilation could be a setback for that progress - no matter how large the whole herd might currently be.



It's true that if the guilt for endangering Labrador's woodland caribou is ever parcelled out fairly the Newfoundland government will deserve the greatest share, since back in the 1970s the Smallwood Reservoir destroyed vast stretches of their habitat. But that's all the more cause for St. John's to try to keep the remaining ones safe.



The government of Quebec, on the other hand, deserves a share of the guilt not necessarily for what it has done, but for what it is not doing. While it claims jurisdiction over the entire northern watershed of the St. Lawrence River, it does not seem to want to exercise it, apparently giving over control to forestry and hydroelectricity companies and to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.



The actions of all three of those groups in the territory appears to be restricted only by the aboriginal rights of thousands of indigenous Innu - rights those Innu have had great difficulty protecting, especially against the political machinations of Hydro Quebec.



The Innu, however, have been allowed free rein in one aspect of their lives, since Quebec wildlife officials leave the hunters alone - on orders from above, or so it's reported.



While Innu have always hunted in the Joir River area, those living on the shores of the St. Lawrence have not always been forced to travel so far north to find caribou. Woodland caribou were once seen as far south as the river, but they now seem to live nowhere in Quebec at all.



The Quebec Innu are right to say that the unrestricted development they see all around them threatens the caribou more than anything else, but their hunting and their public relations strategies do not seem to be helping very much.



If they want people to understand that the 100 animals in the Joir River group are only one part of the Mealy Mountain herd which, even with their hunting, has lately been increasing in numbers up towards the 2,000-member mark and that Innu, as a people who've hunted those caribou for many more generations than Europeans have been on North America, have an undeniable right to kill them for their sustenance, they might consider picking a better way to do it.



Hardly anyone is listening to them now.



The government of Newfoundland and Labrador certainly brooks no talk about Quebec Innu having any aboriginal rights in Labrador.



They live in Quebec, the policy maintains, so they are Quebeckers. Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale says they are welcome to hunt the George River herd, but even her invitation implies the act would be more of a privilege than a right.



Dunderdale also says that her interest and the interest of her government lies solely in the welfare of the Joir River caribou. Talks with the Quebec government, she explained, are only about convincing Quebec to get their own Innu to stop the hunt.



One wonders, however, if during discussions anyone mentioned or will mention the delicate subject of where the border between Labrador and Quebec actually runs across the land.



"The illegal activity is happening in our jurisdiction," Dunderdale says, but just about every map printed by the government of Quebec would disagree with her.



On this matter, however, Quebec is all talk and no action.



Quebec officials say they do not accept the line drawn by the Privy Council in 1927 and that the territory south of the height of land does not belong to Newfoundland, but they do nothing to prove it.



That's how, no matter what happens around the headwaters of the Joir River, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador comes out ahead, especially if the border dispute with Quebec ever goes back to court: it's not enough for a government to only make a claim; a government must take measures to uphold it.



Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador

Organizations: Hydro Quebec, Privy Council

Geographic location: Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Joir River Minipi Lake St. John's St. Lawrence River North America George River

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