Standing at several checkpoints throughout Quebec’s La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve Park this fall, two Algonquin College students joined with other members of the Algonquin Nation to stop traffic and spread a message about moose hunting.
“A study in the La Vérendrye Park showed declining population of moose,” Liam Cote, 21, said. “The community of Barriere Lake decided to block the entrances to the park and decline access to non-Indigenous hunters.”
Cote explained that blockades were setup along Highway 117 at entry points to the Wildlife Reserve, the first camp called Lepine-Clova Road, to support their call to action: a moose moratorium.
Leaving class to support their community
Cote is a first-year Algonquin College student in the pathways to Indigenous empowerment program. He lives in Ottawa with his grandmother during his studies.
“I had to let my teachers know what was happening in my community,” Cote said. “They were all super understanding and encouraging.”
This Fall, Cote would head to Kitigan Zibi as soon as he finished his classes on Thursdays. “I’d go and spend the weekend to then drive back to Ottawa for the school week,” he said. “I did that for about a month and a half.” Cote remained in school throughout the moratorium but was granted extensions on assignments.
As a second-year journalism student at Algonquin College, Angeleah Brazeau-Emmerson, 18, found it tough to focus on school when there was so much going on in her community.
She’d joined social media groups and conversation groups with members of her community about the issue. After that point, her phone would never stop ringing.
“I kept seeing everything about it on Facebook,” she said. “My mom was out there, then I read about a group of hunters that were going to attack. My brother was out there, my community is out there and I can’t be there because I have class.”
“I got so overwhelmed and stressed that I was just not feeling good anymore and it was hard to stay focused on my studies when all of this was happening in our community, to our people,” she said.
Brazeau-Emmerson was invited to several youth meetings during the call to action and joined other community members her age.
“It was really nice to see the youth lead the meeting,” she said. “The goal was to get youth to feel a part of this and know they have a voice.”
She took part in a gathering outside by a sacred fire and another ceremony the morning before the traffic slowdown.
“The ceremony was a way to open the day with positivity and bring that energy with us throughout the day because we knew it was going to be rough,” she explained. “I really felt like I was a part of something, and it was nice to be around a sacred fire and our elders.”
The day of the blockades, she spent some time at one of the check points asking people to roll down their car window and hear their message.
“How we did it is we’d let about 50 cars go in and every five minutes we’d stop and go talk to each of the cars,” she explained. “We just wanted to share information with them, if they wanted to, of course.”
Videos later uploaded to social media from the slowdowns showed someone hitting one of Brazeau-Emmerson’s community members with their car and was heard yelling racial slurs.
“I got super emotional at the start,” Brazeau-Emmerson said recalling her first day at the traffic slowdown. “It was hard because you’re standing there with a sign and people are just looking at you and breaking you a part as if you are not human.”
“And then you’d get that one car where they smiled at you and I just wanted to cry.”
Why a moose moratorium?
Brazeau-Emmerson explained that if hunting kept happening at the rate it was, there would be no moose for her future children.
“We just want the hunting to stop so the decline in moose population can stop,” she said. “We need to slow down the rate, at least, until it’s safe for people to hunt again and our generation as well as the following generations can hunt.”
Cote agreed that this was important now, for the sake of the future generations. “People my age are doing this because we want there to be moose for our kids,” he explained. “I want to be able to go moose hunting with my kid.”
“It’s also part of our teachings and it’s sacred to us,” he added.
Signs were used to illustrate the message of the moose moratorium. One sign showed common logos of corporate store branches such as Dollarama, Provigo, Maxi, Giant Tiger and Metro, under “your store,” while moose and lobster pictures appeared under “our store.”
“Barriere Lake doesn’t have a store near them,” Cote added. “Hunting is their only resource for food. And we want to protect the moose and stand in solidarity with our people.”
Cote will continue to stand by his community and his rights and pursue Indigenous studies.
“My grandmother always tells me to never let people forget that they’re still on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory. We never gave up the land and we will always fight for it.”