Northern hunting regulations under JBQNA nearing deadline for renegotiation

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The Right of First Refusal is set to expire November 15, 2015. At that point, in theory, the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi will no longer be guaranteed the regulation’s requirement that 70% of hunting outfitters operating on Category III land under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement be Indigenous.

Of course, this being a legal wrangle involving the JBNQA, nothing about it is simple. What’s supposed to follow, according to the Agreement, is a review of “Native people’s right of first refusal for outfitting in Category III based on past experience and circumstances including actual and future needs of the Native people and non-Natives.”

So Indigenous people in Quebec’s North should be consulted on what they’ve experienced in the past and what they’ll need in the future in order to determine the best possible changes to the system over the past three decades.

The Cree, Naskapi and Inuit are united under the banner of the Hunting Fishing Trapping Coordinating Committee, set up as part of the JBNQA to provide Aboriginal peoples leverage and rights over hunting land and wildlife management.

A new agreement between the committee and the Quebec government is the goal. But no one is sure how the process will turn out.

“We’re trying to extend [the Right of First Refusal], with the hunting coordinating committee,” said Deputy Grand Chief Rodney Mark. “The Cree Nation Government is asking for an extension of six years. The Quebec government wants to do it within three years. The three Native parties don’t think three years is going to be enough time to negotiate – but also, we don’t even know what kind of negotiations are going to take place. We don’t know what the Quebec government is going to want to see with regard to outfitting camps and the moratorium.”

Nadia Saganash, from the Cree Nation Government office in Montreal, says that under section 24.4.9 of the JBNQA, the committee is to be consulted by the Quebec government and may make a recommendation about what they feel is best for their member Nations.

“So they took the initiative to make some recommendations and do a review of the implementation of the right of first refusal on Category III land,” she said.

Their main recommendation was that the Right of First Refusal should continue for the next 30 years. They recognized there were some procedural issues that had come into play during the previous 30 years, and they proposed a deadline of 2017 to resolve those issues. Then they submitted these two points to the Quebec government.

“The response from the minister was that they found it difficult to renew the Right of First Refusal for another 30 years not knowing what changes would be made to the Right of First Refusal process as a whole,” Saganash said. “At that point we questioned, is this only a procedural issue? Or are we going to be negotiating the right itself?”

Mark said the intent of the Right of First Refusal is to give Crees control of sports hunting through outfitting camps on Category III lands under the JBNQA.

“But also it’s to give Native communities the opportunity to run their own outfitting camps,” he added. “We’re not certain what the Quebec government’s intentions are, going into these negotiations. I think there is pressure to open it up, with the Plan Nord and initiatives like that. But that’s the thing: we don’t know. We want to be sure we know what’s going to be on the table when we sit down to negotiate. That’s our biggest concern.”

If the only issues that need to be negotiated are procedural details, Saganash said, the negotiations could go quickly.

“But if we go into negotiations about the Right of First Refusal itself, that’s another question entirely,” she said. “With that uncertainty, what we’ve recommended is that we have a renewal of at least six years to give us enough time, so we don’t have the risk of getting into a void.”

Saganash says the Indigenous parties are waiting for Quebec’s response. Ideally, the parties would reach an agreement before November to avoid a lapse in the law.

“Quebec has an obligation to negotiate as part of the agreement, and as part of these negotiations there need to be some terms established,” said Saganash. “Right now they haven’t been. What we’re proposing is that we just replace the date of November 10, 2015, with 2021. If we can’t even reach an agreement on that, there’s going to be a void in regulation and the application of the regime.”

In that case, she noted, one option is to ask for a moratorium.

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