Crees Launch Campaign to Protect the Broadback River
"Forty years ago the Government of Quebec put the Broadback River on notice for its destruction by way of hydro-development. Today the Crees request the river to be put on notice for its protection."
Although the Broadback River was spared from its fate as part of the Nottaway-Broadback-Rupert hydro complex with the Signing of the Paix des Braves Agreement in 2002, this has not sheltered the river from other forms of development such as mining and forestry cutting. Over the past 40 years development activities have slowly encroached on the perimeter of the Broadback watershed such that only diminishing portions of the watershed remain as intact undisturbed forest. As Chief Paul Gull of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation expressed:
"In Waswanipi's traditional territory, only the areas around Lake Evans and immediately north of the Broadback river remain road-less, untouched by forestry development. Once these areas are gone, there will be no place left in Waswanipi to show our children what the forest was once truly like when our elders thrived there. "
Building upon the existing protection of the Assinica National Park Reserve that was announced in 2011, the Crees' Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan would establish inter-connective core protected areas along the river's corridor and special conservation management zones that would serve as buffers to the core protection. In creating this conservation plan, the Crees also hope to protect the dwindling herds of woodland caribou that reside in the watershed. The Crees believe that their approach is the only credible way for governments to fulfill their legal obligations to protect locally endangered woodland caribou herds that were classified as "non-sustaining" by a recent GCCEIICRA and Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources commissioned study.
The GCCEI/CRA notes that the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan marks the entry point in a broader long-term protection strategy for Eeyou Istchee. The inspiration for this strategy comes from the bold protection targets set out in the Plan Nord. Given the precarious state of the Broadback River watershed, and preexisting community proposals for local protection, the GCCEI/CRA decided to promote this as the first Cree Nation protection project. The Grand Chief said:
"The Crees have been fortunate enough to receive wide support for their conservation efforts in the past. We hope that this support continues for our efforts to protect the 8roadback River for benefit, not only of the Crees and the residents of James Bay, but for all who appreciate the importance of retaining rare intact ecosystems. We know our territory will undergo tremendous change in the coming years and this is why we must act now to ensure there is sustainable balance in this change."
In 2002, during the signing of the Paix des Braves, the Quebec government signed a letter recognizing that the Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou Cree traplines outside the JBNQA territory would be treated as traplines within the new adapted forestry regime. However overharvesting occurred in those areas and for several years, the Crees fought with Quebec over this malpractice. Concurrently, the CNG and certain Cree communities were demanding that the the Broadback area be protected from development. As very little movement was occurring, the CNG and Quebec decided to add this proposal to the new agreement as compensation for areas lost. 57% of the proposal was realized and further protection was added north of the proposal. But this is not the end for the Broadback protection. A Cree-Quebec taskforce was created to increase protection in Waswanipi territory,who felt that their lands were not protected enough. Overall and at present, 12 traplines are now over 50% protected and we should also rejoice in seeing the protection of Waswanipi, Evans, Du Tast, Dana, Giffard and Theodat Lake along with smaller lakes and rivers; Old Nemaska along with their rock paintings and a caribou habitat in Assinica Park. This agreement did not close any doors but only begins a new phase for the Cree Nation in terms of creating new protected areas.