Sheshatshiu Innu School closed following Facebook post

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A public posting on the Sheshatshiu flea market Facebook page earlier today (June 9) prompted police and school officials to close the Sheshatshiu Innu School this afternoon as a precaution.

Police say a man believed to be from Natuashish posted the following on the flea market page: “U guys are coming (to) hell with me ,,everyone of youse.”

The Labradorian has decided not to publish the man’s name, but his profile photo shows a man holding a lever action rifle, wearing sunglasses and a stocking cap.

The rifle appears to be a poor condition.

Cpl. Rick Mills said the RCMP do not consider the posting a direct threat towards the school, or anyone in Sheshatshiu, and no charges are expected

Mills described the message as “very generic.”

The decision to close the school was precautionary, and fears were likely heightened by recent gun violence in the country, including a shooting last week in Moncton, N.B., that left three RCMP officers dead.

The Labradorian has ben unable to contact anyone from school, and efforts to contact the person named in the Facebook profile have been unsuccessful.

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Quebec devotes $20M to mine railway feasibility study

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MONTREAL — The Quebec government is committing up to $20 million towards a feasibility study on the construction of a railway line connecting the iron ore deposits in northern Quebec’s Labrador Trough region with the Port of Sept-Iles.

Funding for the study, to be conducted with private partners, was included in this week’s provincial budget.

The Liberal government says developing the mining potential of the region is a “cornerstone” of its relaunched Northern Quebec economic development plan.

The study will estimate costs and determine the best railway option, including increasing capacity on existing lines and the building a new one.

Ore producer Champion Iron Ltd. (TSX:CIA) welcomed Quebec’s move, saying political support will stimulate further investment in the region and create new jobs.

Chairman Michael O’Keeffe said Friday that the decision — coming amid uncertainty about the outlook for iron ore because of low global prices — will be seen as a “defining point” in the history of Quebec’s mining industry.

Canadian National Railway (TSX:CNR) put its own feasibility study on ice more than a year ago due to delays in mining projects because of low iron ore prices.

The country’s largest railway had been working with several mining companies and the Caisse de depot pension fund on a study into a transportation line and terminal handling facility, which analysts had estimated could cost $5 billion.

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Battle underway to control stray dogs on reserves

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MONTREAL – It’s not everyday that a hockey rink is turned into an operating room.

That’s what happened on a First Nations reserve 12 hours north of Montreal, over a four-day stretch last month, where a team of veterinarians set up shop.

They spayed or neutered about 250 dogs as part of an effort to control the growing stray population in Opitciwan, Que.

It’s one of dozens of such campaigns that take place each year across Canada’s north, where wild dogs have long been a problem in remote communities, raising a host of health and safety concerns.

In the span of just over a month earlier this year, a 10-year-old girl and seven-year-old girl were mauled to death by dogs in separate incidents in Manitoba.

New initiatives including stricter bylaws, educational workshops, and sterilization campaigns are being employed to get the problem under control. Funding and resources, though, are often scarce.

“The overall goal is to control the stray population to make sure that there’s less unwanted and abandoned litters,” said Ewa Demianowicz, a manager with Humane Society International who was part of the group that travelled to Opitciwan at the reserve’s request.

“When you get there, there’s an overpopulation problem and there’s also a welfare problem. We see a lot of injured animals or animals that are obviously sick or have a wound, and there’s no veterinary clinic anywhere nearby.”

While dogs have historically played a key role in the lives of First Nations communities, often relied upon for hunting and protection, today many are struggling on a limited budget to cope with overpopulation and strays.

Culling, which was previously seen as a quick way to reduce an out-of-control stray-dog population, has become increasingly taboo.

A Manitoba petition against the practice last year gained support across the country. It called for more federal funding to assist in spay-and-neuter programs.

Some communities, like Rama Mnjikaning First Nation, 150 kilometres north of Toronto, have taken a different approach. It has seen positive results from putting tougher rules in place.

The reserve’s bylaw supervisor Al Sawyer said when he first started as an animal control program in 1996, there were big problems. Stronger regulations were necessary to make sure residents and visitors to the community were safe, he said.

“You can’t have dogs running around if you’re going to have people coming to your establishments running at large,” he said.

But tougher rules aren’t always sufficient to deal with the problem on reserves in more remote, northern communities, where there are often more dogs than residents and little access to veterinary care.

Dr. Jasmine Dhillon, a veterinarian and PhD candidate at the University of Saskatchewan, is involved in a new project aimed at coming up with solutions on a case-by-case basis. She meets with community members, including elders and the tribal council.

“In the end our goal is to have models, so that if you want create a new bylaw or education program or spay-neuter program, we can help with that,” she said.

Dhillon said studies show some communities average upwards of more than two dogs per household.

For the project in northern Quebec, HSI partnered with the Quebec organization Chiots Nordiques (Northern Puppies).

They set up a similar clinic last year for dogs and cats in Wemotaci, Que., a six-hour drive north from Montreal.

Demianowicz said it’s been difficult to keep up with demand, especially given the costs.

“It involves a lot of finances, to be able to bring a team up there and set up a clinic,” she said.

“These communities often don’t have the necessary resources to have these groups coming in.”

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Tracking collars could affect the health of Nunavik caribou

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“Everyone using any type of device should make sure it’s not interfering with the welfare of the animal”

SARAH ROGERS

Laval University biologists put a collar on a captured caribou in Northern Quebec in February 2013. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CARIBOU UNGAVA)
Laval University biologists put a collar on a captured caribou in Northern Quebec in February 2013. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CARIBOU UNGAVA)

Tracking Arctic animals is no easy task — not even for the most skilled hunter.

For researchers based in southern universities and research facilities, it’s often radio transmitters embedded into collars, backpacks or ear tags that are used to study those animals’ habitat use, behaviour and survival.

But recent research by the Quebec program Caribou Ungava has found that collar weight may reduce survival among migratory caribou females — such as those found in Nunavik’s vulnerable George River and Leaf River herds.

“In the last two decades or so, most of the work on caribou has been done by satellite, because of their isolated location,” said Steeve Côté, a biology professor at Laval University and director of its Caribou Ungava research centre.

“Basically, the animal wears a collar that we can program to monitor its location every few minutes,” he said. “Some technology even allows us to reprogram from anywhere in the world.”

VHF collars, which have been used for several decades, emit radio pulses that allow operators to determine their location.

Satellite collars first emerged in the mid-1980s; the Quebec government was among the first to start using them in 1986 as part of a large caribou monitoring program in northern Quebec and Labrador.

Newer models include GPS-satellite-linked systems, which provide regular position updates accurate to about 30 feet.

But more advanced technology has generally required a heavier battery pack to function.

Researchers with Caribou Ungava studied the survival of female caribou with the George and Leaf Rivers herds fitted with 514-gram VHF collars, compared to the same type of caribou fitted with 1.63 kilogram (3.5 pound) satellite collars — more than three times heavier than the VHF technology.

Researchers looked at data gathered in the early 1990s, as well as in 2000.

During the study period, adult females from the George River herd equipped with the lighter VHF collars had a significantly higher survival rate than adult females equipped with heavier satellite collars.

Females with VHF collars had an average survival rate of 87 per cent while females with satellite collars had an average survival of 73 per cent.

The annual survival of adult females from the Leaf River herd was very high, although it did not differ depending on collar type.

“Everyone using any type of device should make sure it’s not interfering with the welfare of the animal,” Côté said.

“The problem is, you can only monitor the animals who are wearing collars, not the others.”

Previous studies have concluded that the acceptable weight of any sort of collar or tagging device is about three per cent of the animal’s body weight.

But Caribou Ungava’s findings are particularly important given the vulnerability of both George and Leaf River herds, whose populations have been on the decline over the last decade.

There are two messages that emerge from this, and other studies, Côté said.

“One thing it indicates that we should respect not having heavy collars — the technology is available,” he said.

Côté noted that since about 2000, caribou from the George River and Leaf River herds are no longer fitted with heavy collars. Modern satellite collars can weigh less than 500 grams.

“The second message is to reconsider all those studies we rely on from the 1980s and 1990s,” Côté said. “We still use this data a lot but we should be aware now that there might be impacts on survival.

“Everyone should look at the impacts of this data in their study. Otherwise, you’re not measuring the reality.”

Lighter tracking collars generally limit the amount of data researchers are able to gather, he said.

“But in the end, data is better if it’s unbiased,” he said. “And if we find an impact, we should be responsible for (negating) it.”

Radio transmitters: A heavy burden on migrating caribou? was presented to the ArcticNet conference in Halifax last winter.

The study, led by Laval University student Alexandre Rasiulis, falls under Caribou Ungava, a joint research program of the Quebec government, Laval University and the University of Sherbrooke.

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Natuashish mourning loss of Marcel Katshinak

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Family and friends remember him as great hunter, outdoorsman

Marcel Katshinak, who was found deceased outside of Natuashish next to his snowmobile, was considered an avid outdoorsman and skilled hunter.

The community of Natuashish, no stranger to dealing with tragedy, is mourning the loss of great hunter and outdoorsman.

On May 16, 51-year-old Marcel Katshinak was reported missing, four days after leaving on snowmobile for a remote area known as Border Beacon. One day later, Katshinak was found deceased just six kilometres outside of Natuashish, his body lying beside his snowmobile. The RCMP is still investigating the cause of death.

For those who knew him, Katshinak will be remembered as a man of many talents, especially when it came to hunting and camping.

“There’s a lot of things I should have said when he was still alive,” said former Mushuau Innu First Nation Chief Simeon Tshakapesh. “He was a very nice man. He was my best friend, he was my cousin, he was my hunting partner, and he was my travel companion.”

Tshakapesh and Katshinak were friends for nearly 40 years, going back to when they were just small children. The ex-chief recalls how his friend and cousin could build things so easily with his hands, and what a great companion he was while out in the country.

“He was a very hard worker. He’s a good carpenter and a good wood carver,” said Tshakapesh.

“And he knows the land really well. Every time we go into the country, we always go together. We worked really good together as a team.

“Growing up we used to hang around each other and we used to hunt together. And we used to do a lot of bonding … we done everything together in the country.”

Tshakapesh moved from Natuashish to Sheshatshiu after resigning as chief in 2013. After hearing of Katshinak’s passing, he quickly flew into Natuashish to be with friends and family. Tshakapesh, like the rest of the Innu community, is still in shock at the sudden and unexpected death.

“I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it.”

“The mood is really, really, bad here. It’s so sad, everybody is so shocked.”

Marie Agathe Rich, like Tshakapesh, was a cousin and close friend of Katshinak. To Rich, Katshinak was a caring man who went out of his way to teach her about hunting and respecting the land.

“He was a nice person, caring person … taught me how to respect the animals, he would teach me everything,” said Rich, while fighting back tears.

“Ever since I knew Marcel … he would live with me in the country every year on the outpost. And when he hunted, when he kills the game, he showed me how to clean it. And he also showed me how to cook.”

Rich was actually with a group of people, camping in the country, when she heard the news that Katshinak was missing. To her, the news didn’t seem real because, only a couple of days earlier, she was sharing stories about Marcel with a friend.

“When we were out in the country, we talked about him, shared stories from him. We didn’t know this could happen only a couple days later, that’s when we heard he was missing,” recalled Rich.

“I was shocked. I don’t know what to do, or say, or think. I was very shocked, that I told myself ‘that’s not him.’”

As of May 21, Tshakapesh and Rich couldn’t say when a memorial service for their friend would be taking place. For now, all they can do is remain strong.

“We’re having a difficult time, but we’re hanging in there,” said Rich.

 

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New documentary to offer Inuit view of Nunavik land claim talks

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“Youth want to know what drove them so hard; what inspired them to take on the federal government”

SARAH ROGERS

Eight of the original 11 signatories of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement were honoured earlier this year at Makivik Corp.'s AGM in Ivujivik. A new Makivik-led documentary hopes to capture their perspective of the negotiation process. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)<br />
Eight of the original 11 signatories of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement were honoured earlier this year at Makivik Corp.’s AGM in Ivujivik. A new Makivik-led documentary hopes to capture their perspective of the negotiation process. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)
JBNQA signatory Tommy Cain receives the Order of Nunavik in Ivujivik this past March. A new documentary hopes to interview the nine surviving signatories of the agreement while they are still able to tell their stories. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)
JBNQA signatory Tommy Cain receives the Order of Nunavik in Ivujivik this past March. A new documentary hopes to interview the nine surviving signatories of the agreement while they are still able to tell their stories. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)
A young Charlie Watt and Zebedee Nungak are pictured during the signing of the JBNQA in 1975. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)
A young Charlie Watt and Zebedee Nungak are pictured during the signing of the JBNQA in 1975. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIVIK)

For a younger generation of Nunavimmiut, the black and white images of shaggy-haired Inuit negotiators sitting around a table are only a brief glimpse into a major turning point in Nunavik’s history.

The Inuit and Cree who sat down alongside the provincial and federal governments in the early 1970s produced the country’s first modern land claims agreement for the regions of James Bay and Northern Quebec.

But young people in the region have told their birthright organization they want to better understand that historic process.

“A lot of these negotiators were only in their 20s,” said William Tagoona, who works in communications for Makivik Corporation. “Youth want to know what drove them so hard; they want to know what inspired them to take on the federal government.”

Those inquiries led Makivik to launch a documentary project to capture the perspectives of the Inuit signatories of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which will be the first made-in-Nunavik film about the negotiations, with a focus on Inuit involvement.

The need to properly document that part of Nunavik’s history was identified during last year’s Parnasimautik consultations, which toured the region and foundNunavimmiut want to see better preservation of their culture.

Tagoona said the timing is right to gather the memories of the nine surviving signatories from the original group of 11, which includes Johnny Williams, Sarollie Weetaluktuk, Peter Inukpuk, Tommy Cain, Charlie Watt, Zebedee Nungak, Putilik Papigatuk, Charlie Arngak and Robbie Tookalook.

Signatories George Koneak and Mark Annanack have since passed away.

“We know the youth are really hungry for information about why land claims came to be, and why the agreement came out as it is,” Tagoona said. “This will help them understand where they are today.”

Tagoona, who at the time worked in communications for Makivik’s predecessor, the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, sat in on many of the negotiating sessions and the visits Inuit negotiators made to Nunavik communities in 1973 and 1974.

“[Nunavik] had so little funding then, no telephones, and we’d fly into these communities on single-engine airplanes,” he said. “We slept in schools, sometimes on the floor.”

“When we tell these stories to young people, their eyes light up,” he added. “They don’t realize the benefits they see in their communities weren’t always there.”

Negotiations began shortly after Quebec announced in 1971 its plans to build a system of hydroelectric dams in northern Quebec, along waterways historically used by Cree and Inuit.

The JBNQA was signed Nov. 11, 1975, after four years of negotiations.

It was Canada’s first modern comprehensive land claims agreement. James Bay Cree and the Inuit of northern Quebec ceded territory totalling 450,000 square kilometres in exchange for $225 million in compensation.

In Nunavik, the agreement also brought about the creation of major organizations such as the Kativik Regional Government, the Kativik School Board, and the Inuit birthright organization, Makivik Corp., which manages the compensation funds.

Makivik has contracted Montreal production company Studio Pascal Blais to shoot the film.

The documentary will be co-directed by Tagoona and Ole Gjerstad, who has 25 years of filmmaking experience in the Canadian Arctic.

Starting next month, a film crew will arrive in Kuujjuaq to begin interviews with the nine signatories, but also with many Nunavimmiut who played a role in negotiations behind the scenes.

“A lot of those guys were so young,” Tagoona said. “But they had many elders advising them. We want to go into the communities and talk to people who remember what was happening at the time.There’s not many people left.”

To tell the whole story, the film crew will also need to sit down with dissidents who rejected the agreement, members of Inuit Tungavingat Nunamini, Tagoona said, as well as government officials who sat across the table.

“We want this film to show youth the reality of what they have today,” Tagoona said. “It also takes it to a whole new level, but showing them they can take on that leadership too.”

Tagoona estimates the project will cost about $500,000, funded by Makivik with support from the Kativik Regional Government and Kativik School Board.

The goal is to have the film done in time to be screened at Makivik’s annual general meeting in 2015, also the 40th anniversary of the signing of the JBNQA.

The film will be available in Inuttitut, English and French.

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‘Goose break’: Cree tradition goes back centuries

Northern Quebec communities close down every spring as people head out on the land to hunt

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Cassandra Weapenicappo Stephen, a young Cree woman from Eastmain, northern Quebec, is out on the land for the annual spring goose hunt. (CBC)

Cassandra Weapenicappo Stephen, a young Cree woman from Eastmain, northern Quebec, is out on the land for the annual spring goose hunt. (CBC)

Every spring, in the Cree communities of northern Quebec, regular life grinds to a halt. Kids take a break from school, businesses shut their doors and people head out on the land to hunt. It’s the period known as goose break, a tradition that goes back centuries.

The caribou, moose and ptarmigan that filled up the people’s freezers is long gone, and the thousands of geese flying north are a perfect replacement.

Clifford Bearskin is an elder in Chisasibi, on the east coast of James Bay, who’s been hunting his whole life. He usually goes out with his grandson and always manages to come back with a good haul.

“A person with a good shot always gets plenty of geese,” he said.

But hunting in the spring can be risky. Once the spring sun shines directly onto the land, the ice and snow melt away quickly. Elder Bearskin describes it “like melting fat in a sauce pan when you prepare to cook bannock.”

‘It’s a tradition in my culture to hunt this kind of wild meat and also to have big feasts in our community.’- Cassandra Weapenicappo Stephen

The environment can change in a flash, and hunters on snowmobiles have to be very careful when they’re crossing lakes and rivers. Especially this year, when the ice has been particularly unpredictable.

The weather isn’t the only thing changing. Hunting used to be an exclusively male activity, but more and more women are taking it up.

Neil George

17 year-old Neil George caught the first goose in Whapmagoostui this year. (CBC)

Cassandra Weapenicappo Stephen, from the James Bay community of Eastmain, was out on the land Monday. She says she started hunting because she knew how to use a gun.

“The more I learned about using a gun, the more interested I was in hunting,” she said.

Goose break also helps Weapenicappo Stephen feel connected to her people;

“It’s a tradition in my culture to hunt this kind of wild meat and also to have big feasts in our community,” she said.

Those mouth-watering feasts will take place in a week or two, when the hunters return.

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