Hunting and the Quest for Power:

The James Bay Cree and Whitemen in the 20th Century

by

Harvey A. Feit

[The following presentation initially appeared as a chapter in Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience, (2nd ed. 1995), edited by R. Bruce Morrison and C. Roderick Wilson and published by McCelland & Stewart. It is reprinted here (in three parts) with permission of the copyright holders.]

Introduction

This chapter has been called "Hunting and the Quest for Power" 1 because it is about different quests for power and how they have interacted in the recent history of the James Bay region of northern Quebec. The key terms of this title are ambiguous; hunting means different things to the Cree than it does for other Canadians, and so, too, with power. The quest for power is a metaphor the Cree might use for the life of a hunter; it is also a metaphor Euro-Canadians might use for the goals of both northern developers and government bureaucracies.

The James Bay Cree region lies to the east and southeast of James Bay and southeast of Hudson Bay. It has been inhabited by the James Bay Cree since the glaciers left about 5,000 years ago. The Cree now number some 12,000 people and live in nine distinct settlements from which they hunt approximately 375,000 square kilometres of land. (The word "Cree" in this chapter refers specifically to the James Bay Cree.)

I visited the region first in 1968 when I began my doctoral research on hunters of the Cree community of Waswanipi. My interest in hunting arose from a concern for the relationships between Western societies and their environments. I had read often in the human ecology literature that Indians had a different relationship with nature, but I found the literature vague and somewhat romantic in its account. I thought an "on the ground" study of Cree/environment relationships could help revise the popular images of Indians as ecological saints or wanton over-exploiters and could develop a practical understanding of the real accomplishments and limitations of one Indian group's approach. I think I was able to partially accomplish this goal, but with Cree tutelage and encouragement I also learned things I had not foreseen. These are probably best described as lessons in the sacredness of the everyday and the practicality of wisdom.

When the Cree began their opposition lo the James Bay hydroelectric scheme in 1972, they asked if I would present some of the results of my research to the courts and then use them in the negotiations. It was an unexpected happenstance that my study proved to be of some use to the Cree, and one for which I was thankful. I served as an adviser to the Cree organizations during the negotiation and implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, regularly from 1973 through 1978, and on an occasional basis thereafter. This took me into a new set of interests in the relationship of the Cree to the government and toward a deeper interest in Cree history. The results of some of these experiences are described in the latter parts of this chapter.

Part I:

The Contemporary Cree Hunting Culture

Cree Hunting Culture and Knowledge

An early ethnographer of the Eastern Subarctic, Frank G. Speck, called Indian hunting a "religious occupation." Several recent ethnographers have called it a culturally distinct science, an "ethnoscience." How can we understand Cree hunting, a way of life whose destruction would cause not only an economic and social crisis but a cultural and moral crisis as well? To answer such questions we must try to understand what meanings hunting has for the hunters themselves.

We can develop an understanding of how the James Bay Cree think about hunting and about themselves and their world by considering the different meanings conveyed by the Cree word for hunting. We will find that their concept of hunting is very different from the everyday understandings common in our own culture. However odd the Cree conception may appear to be at first, we will find that it not only has logic when understood in the context of Cree thought and action, but also that it has important affinities with the recent discoveries of ecological scientists working within our own culture. These analogies may help us to better understand Cree thought, although they will not make the Cree out to be scientists or transform scientists into effiective hunters.

ANIMAL GIFTS

Nitao, the root of the Cree term that is roughly translated into English as "hunting, fishing, and trapping in the bush," is found in a series of words related to hunting activities. At least five basic meanings are associated with this root term for hunting: to see something or to look at something; to go to get or to fetch something; to need something; to want something; and to grow or continue to grow.

That hunting should be thought of as a process of looking or seeking is apparent to us as well as to the Cree. Hunting is typically a process of seeing signs of the presence of animals - tracks, spoor, feeding or living areas - and of then seeking to encounter the animals and to kill them. The proposition that hunting is "looking" emphasizes the uncertainty involved. The Cree view is that most animals are shy, retiring, and not easily visible, and hunting therefore involves an expectation as well as an activity. The hunter goes through a process of finding indications of possible encounters with animals; if the hunt is successful he fulfils his anticipation. We will see below how this anticipation plays a role in Cree thinking.

That a successful hunt should also be conceptualized as getting or fetching animals is also apparent, but part of what the Cree mean by this is different from what we would assume. To get an animal in the Cree view does not mean to encounter it by chance, but to receive the animal. The animal is given to the hunter. A successful hunt is not simply the result of the intention and work of the hunter; it is also the outcome of the intention and actions of the animals. In the process of hunting a hunter enters into a reciprocal relationship: animals are given to hunters to meet their needs and wants, and in return the hunters incur obligations to the animals. Thus the Cree conception of hunting involves a complex and moral relationship in which the outcome of the hunt is a result of the mutual efforts of the hunter and the environment. This is a subtle and accurate ecological perspective. It may seem odd that animal kills should be conceptualized as gifts, and it is important therefore to note that Cree do not radically separate the concepts of "human" and "animals." In their everyday experience in the bush they continually observe examples of the intelligence and will power of animals. They express this by saying that animals are "like persons"; they act as if they are capable of independent action, and they are causally responsible for things they do.

For the Cree this is an everyday observation. Evidence of intelligence is cited from several sources. One type is that each animal has its own way of living or, as is sometimes said, its own way of thinking. Each responds to environmental circumstances in ways that human beings can recognize as logically appropriate. Each has its own preparations for winter: beavers build complex lodges; bears, dens; ducks and geese migrate. Each also relates to, and communicates with, members of its species. For example, beavers establish three-generational colonies built around a monogamous couple. Geese mate for life and have complex patterns of flock leadership. And inter-species communication is indicated by the intelligent response of animals to the efforts of the hunters themselves. Some beaver will place mud on top of a trap and then eat the poplar branches left as lure and a gift by the hunter. Hunters say their techniques have to depend on how fast an animal thinks. Each animal has special mental characteristics: beaver are stubborn and persistent, bear are intelligent, wolves are fearless, grouse are stupid. Further, animals have emotions and may be "scared" or "mad" when they avoid hunters.

That animals give themselves is indicated in part by their typical reactions to hunters. When a bear den is found in winter, a hunter will address the bear and tell it to come out. And bears do awake, come out of their dens sluggishly, and get killed. That such a powerful, intelligent, and potentially dangerous animal can be so docile is significant for the Cree. The behaviour of moose is also significant. Moose bed down facing into the wind, so that air does not penetrate under their hair. When a hunter approaches from down wind, he comes upon it from behind. A moose typically takes flight only after scenting or seeing a source of danger. It therefore rises up when it hears a hunter approach and turns in the direction of the noise to locate and scent the source. In this gesture, taking ten to fifteen seconds, the moose gives itself to the hunter by turning and looking at him.

The extensive knowledge Cree have of animals becomes, therefore, a basis for their understanding that animals are given. The concept of an animal gift indicates that killing an animal is not solely the result of the knowledge, will, and action of humans, however necessary these are, but that the most important reasons for the gift lie in the relationships of the givers and the receivers. Because animals are capable of intelligent thought and social action, it is not only possible for them to understand human beings, but for humans to understand animals. The actions of animals are events of communication that convey information about intentions. Saying that the animals are gifts therefore emphasizes that the hunter must adapt his hunt to what he learns from and knows about the animals. To see how this works we must examine the Cree world.

THE HUNTER'S WORLD

Because animals are gifts, it is appropriate to ask "Who gives the animal?" and the answer to this question leads us to important features of Cree logic and cosmology. Recurrent answers are that animals do not only give themselves, they are given by the "wind persons" and by God or Jesus.

Just as animals are like persons, so, too, are phenomena that we do not consider to be living. Active phenomena such as winds, water, as well as God and various spirit beings, are all considered to be like persons or to be associated with personal beings. And because all sources of action are like persons, the explanations of the causes of events and happenings are not in terms of impersonal forces, but in terms of the actions of one or more persons. Explanations refer to a "who" that is active, rather than to a "what" (Hallowell, 1955; Black, 1967). The world is therefore volitional, and the perceived regularities of the world are not those of natural law but rather like the habitual behaviour of persons. It is therefore possible to know what will happen before it does occur, because it is habitual. But there is also a fundamental unpredictability in the world as well: habits make action likely, not certain. This capriciousness is also a result of the diversity of persons, because many phenomena must act in concert for events to occur. The world of personal action is therefore a world neither of mechanistic determination nor of random chance: it is a world of intelligent order, but a very complex order, and one not always knowable by men. The Cree world of complex interrelationships is analogous to that of some ecological scientists, although the scientists use an organic rather than a personal metaphor.

For the Cree, the relationship of the wind persons to animal gifts is constantly confirmed by everyday experience. The wind persons bring cold or warmth and snow or rain, and with the coming and going of predominant winds the seasons change. They are responsible for the variable wealher conditions to which animals and hunters each respond. The bear hibernates and is docile only in winter when the north wind is predominant. The geese and ducks arrive with the increasing frequency of the south wind and leave with its departure. In a myriad of other ways, the animals and hunters, and the success ol the hunt, depend in part on the conditions brought by the winds.

Each of the four wind persons resides at one of the four points of the compass, and each has specific personal characteristics related to particular seasons, weather and animal patterns, hunting conditions, and success. When a hunter is asked by young men and women who have been away to school why he says that the animals are given by the winds, he often answers that they must come and live in the bush to see for themselves. It is demonstrated in the daily and yearly experience of the hunters, and it can be shared with anyone who will spend enough time in the bush.

Parallel discoveries of the relationships of animals, weather, and hunting can be found in hunting lore in our own society. But whereas this knowledge plays a role in our culture of hunting, scientists have devoted limited research effort to it. By contrast, such relationships are centrally important in Cree hunting practice, and they are encoded and highlighted by Cree concepts and in what we might call their science of hunting.

The concepts of the wind persons mediate and link several series of ideas that serve to order the Cree world in space and time. The wind persons are said to live at the four corners of the earth, thereby orienting space on a four-point compass. The wind persons also link God to the world. They are part of the world "up there," but they affect the earth down here. They thus link the spirits and God who are up there to the men and animals who live their lives on the earth.

"God" and Jesus are the ultimate explanation for all that happens on this earth, but He2 also gives all the personal beings of the world intelligence and will in order to follow His Way, or abandon it. God alone gives and takes life, but beings are ultimately responsible for their actions. God therefore plays a key part in the gift of animals to hunters, but only a part. He is the leader of all things, and He is assisted by the wind persons and a hierarchy of leaders extending to most spirits, animals, and humans. The idea of leadership is persuasive in the Waswanipi world, and the hierarchy of leaders is spoken of as one of power. Hunting therefore depends not only on the hunter and the animals, but on an integrated chain of leaders and helpers acting together to give and to receive animals.

In this chain, human beings fit somewhere in the middle range, closely linked to those both above and below them. Human beings are mutually dependent on animals, who are generally less powerful than humans, and on spirit beings, who are generally more powerful. But the linkages are close and the positions flexible. As Cree myths indicate, some of the less powerful spirit beings were formerly human beings who have been transformed into spirits. Animals themselves used to be "like us," and in the "long ago" time of the legends they could talk with one another and with humans.

THE POWER OF HUNTING

The power of God and humans is manifest in the relationship between thought and happenings in the world. What God thinks or knows happens; His thought is one with happenings and thus He is all powerful. Spirit beings participate in this power to a lesser degree; they know only some of what will happen in the future or at a distance. Their thought and happenings frequently coincide. God and spirit beings may give their powerful knowledge to humans in dreams and in thoughts, and by signs in the world, but they never tell all that humans would like to know. People can often be said to "discover" their understandings rather than create them; and thought or insight may "come to us" as a gift from God and spirits, in waking thought or in dreams. Thinking and prayer may be one. The knowledge that spirits give anticipates the future with some real - but always unknown - degree of certainty.

Humans not only differ from animals by the degree of power they receive, but also from each other. Powerful and effective knowledge increases with age and with the care and attention individuals give to interpreting and cultivating their communications with God and spirit beings. These differences in power and wisdom are reflected in the patterns of leadership within human communities.

The meaning of power in the Cree perspective, therefore, differs in important ways from our own. We typically think of power as the ability to control others and/or the world. For the Cree it is more complex. Human knowledge is always incomplete, and there is often a gap between what humans think and what actually happens. In hunting, for example, a hunter will frequently dream of an animal he will be given before he begins to look for it. He may then go out hunting and find signs of that animal that confirm his expectation. When the things he thinks about actually come to be, when he is given the animal, that is an indicator of power. But humans never find that all they anticipate comes to be. The power is a coincidence between an internal state of being (thought) and the configuration of the world (event), a congruence anticipated by the inner state and that this anticipation helps to actualize. Both the thought and the event are social processes. Power is not an individual possession, it is a gift, and a person cannot in this view bring his thought to actuality by individually manipulating the world to conform to his desires. And, at each phase of happenings in the world, humans, spirit beings, and other beings must sensitively interpret and respond to the communications and actions of the other beings around them. "Power" is a relationship in thought and action among many beings, whereby potentiality becomes actuality. Hunting is an occasion of power in this sense, and the expression of this is that animals are gifts, with many givers. Power in this Cree sense may have analogies to our concept of truth, i.e., thought that comes to be. We might say that power is truth unfolding, rather than that power is control.

This complex understanding of hunting links intimately with basic Cree attitudes toward human life itself. The symbols conveying Cree concepts of hunting also order the Cree understanding of the life and death of animals and of the hunters themselves. The life and ultimate death of both the hunted and the hunters are as enigmatic for the Cree as they are for us. That humans should have to kill animals to feed themselves and their families in order to live and that humans themselves all die are fundamentally mysterious features of life. Both animals and humans participate in the mystery of death, and Cree symbols of hunting elaborate the mystery and bring the wonder of life and death into the world of everyday meanings.

The hunt is conceptualized as an ever-changing cycle at many levels. If a hunter is successful he will bring game back to his camp. Having received a gift, the hunter is under obligation to respect that gift by reciprocating with gifts of his own. These gifts go partly to other Cree, as most large kills are shared with kinsmen, neighbours, or with the community. By giving meat to others they are said to find more animal gifts themselves in return. The hunter also reciprocates to the spirits who have participated in the hunt, often by placing a small portion of the meat into the stove at the first meal of each day, so the smoke of the gift can go up the stove pipe as a sign of appreciation and respect to the spirits "up there." This return offering is part of an ongoing relationship of reciprocity: it not only expresses respect and repays an obligation, it continues the exchange as a statement of anticipation that the hunter will again receive what he wants when he is again in need. Many Cree rituals follow a similar structure.

Hunting is conceptualized as an ongoing process involving a delicate and ever-changing balance. When bad luck occurs, hunters turn their attention to other species, or they hunt in another area until the animals are ready to be caught again. If animals want to be caught and are not hunted, they have fewer young and more easily succumb to diseases or predation. Thus, proper hunting can lead to increases in the numbers and health of the animals. However, if a hunter kills animals that are not given, if he overhunts, then the spirits of that species will be "mad," and the hunter will have no luck. Thus, in hunting, the life and death of animals form a delicate reciprocal process.

The alteration in hunting luck brings us to the last of those meanings of the word ''hunting.'' Hunters say that when they decrease their hunting they do so in order that the animals may cease being mad and may grow again. Hunting involves a reciprocal obligation for hunters to provide the conditions in which animals can grow and survive on the earth. The fullilment of this responsibility provides the main criterion by which hunters judge one another. In everyday conversation people speak extensively about the reputations and actions of other hunters. What is emphasized is hunting competence (Preston, 1975). A hunter who masters a difficult skill and through his ties with spirits receives hard-to-get gifts exhibits his competence and participates in power. Men and women who are respected for their exceptional competence are contrasted with those who take chances, who fool around with animals by not killing them cleanly, and who seek self-aggrandizement by large kills or wasting animals. The hunters who consistently have good luck but not excessive harvests also demonstrate competence because they maintain that delicate balance with the world in which animals die and are reborn in health and in continuing growth.

This image of the competent hunter serves also as a goal of the good life. The aims of both hunting and of life are, in part, to maintain a continuing sensitivity to and a balanced participation with the world, in which humans and animals reciprocally contribute to the survival of the other. The aim of life is the perpetuation of an ordered, meaningful, and bountiful world. This aim includes those now alive and those yet to be born. The social universe thus extends beyond the human world, beyond the temporal frame of an individual human life. Such a life leads from an awareness of the mystery of everyday life to the mystery of death, through competencc to participate in power.

Hunting is not just a central activity of the Cree, nor is it simply a science or a formal ritual. Hunting is an ongoing experience of truth as power.

Hunting Practices: Subsistence Economy, Society and Ecological Management

Contemporary studies by anthropologists of hunting and gathering peoples can be dated to the mid-1960s when it was "discovered" that the hunting and gathering peoples of Africa and Australia were able to efficiently, abundantly, and reliably produce their own subsistence. This came as something of a revelation to both popular and professional images of hunting life. The hunting way of life was often thought to be precisely the opposite - inefficient, impoverished, and unpredictable. Following these findings, studies of the Cree tended to confirm the application of the new view to Subarctic hunters as well, although with some qualifications.

EFFICIENCY, ABUNDANCE, ANID RELIABILITY OF CREE SUBSISTENCE HUNTING PRACTICES

It was found that the hunters do not encounter game on a haphazard basis but that they carefully plan and organize their hunting activities. Hunting is organized into an annual cycle of activities so that each species of game is used at times likely to produce an efficient, abundant, and reliable supply of food.

Cree hunters know how to kill moose at almost any season of the year, but they tend to concentrate their hunting activities at several specific periods during an annual cycle. One period is during the fall mating period or rut, when moose call to attract partners and when they typically feed and drink in the mornings and evenings along the shorelines of streams and lakes. Cree hunters often look along the shores for signs indicating the places that moose have visited; they then wait or return at appropriate times to call the males to the location. After the rut, moose are not hunted extensively until snows have accumulated to significant depths. As the snow depth increases, the widely dispersed populations progressively concentrate and are often found on the hills where wind blows some snow accumulations thin. When the snow in the concentration areas exceeds one metre in depth, the moose tend to restrict their movements to a series of trails. Under these conditions moose move outside the trails reluctantly. If the moose do take flight, hunters on snowshoes can exhaust there by pursuit, until they stand their ground, face the hunter, and give themselves to him.

A third period of intensive moose hunting occurs in late winter when snow may melt and form a crust. The moose may be able to walk, breaking through the crust with each step, but if they run they tear the skin and tendons of their legs against the jagged edges of the crust. Again, they will often stand their ground and face the hunter.

Cree moose-hunting practices therefore depend on extensive knowledge of the actions of animals in relation to weather, habitat, and the actions of men. Hunting is concentrated on the occasions when moose most clearly give themselves to the hunters and when men can best fulfil their obligations to the moose by killing the animals efficiently and with a minimum of suffering.

As we would expect, the proficiency and knowledge of Cree hunters make their hunting quite reliable. They succeed on about 22 per cent of the days they search for moose, 88 per cent of days spent fishing, and about 50 per cent of days hunting beaver. The efficiency of the various activities was also substantial. The efficiency ratios for moose hunting run from 25:1 to 40:1 - each day of moose hunting provides food for twenty-live to forty active adults for one day, or for a family of four for one to two weeks. Beaver hunting returns average 7: 1, and fishing, 4:1. Overall, Cree winter hunting activity efficiencies average 7:1. Bush food provides hunters' families with 150 per cent of the calories they require, and it provides eight times the daily protein requirement. It also provides more than twice the required intakes of the nine other vitamins and minerals for which calculations could be run. These hunters also took purchased food with them into the bush camps, but the caloric value of bush foods produced was nearly four times greater than the calories available from store food.

Half the food produced is circulated in gift exchanges to kinsmen and friends back in the settlement, and some is kept for later village consumption. Those who give receive back other gifts of food, as well as gifts of other supplies and equipment. Bush food harvests have been estimated in the 1970s to provide from 25 to 55 per cent of the yearly energy needs of the various communities and at least 50 per cent of almost all required nutrients.

THE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION OF HUNTING AND THE POWER TO MANAGE GAME RESOURCES

The Cree have a distinct system of rights and responsibilities concerning land, resources, community, and social relations - a system of land and resource tenure, and of self-governance. This system provides a means with which the hunters can fulfill their responsibilities to animals and spirits and contribute to the conditions necessary for their mutual survival.

Cree society is organized around principles of community, responsible autonomy, and reciprocity. The central resources of land and wildlife are not considered to be owned because people are born and die while the land continues. The land is passed on from previous generations and will be transmitted to future generations. The land and the animals are God's creations, and, to the extent that humans use or control them, they do so as part of a broad social community united by reciprocal obligations. These gifts and obligations are not solely individual; they involve the wider human community as well, so that all people have a right of access to land and resources to sustain themselves. This right extends to all Cree, and to others as well, but along with the rights go responsibilities to contribute to the continued productivity of the land and animals. The exercise and fulfilment of such responsibility require knowledge and a subtle responsiveness to the relationships with animals and spirits and imply a willingness to exercise self-control and participation in a community of responsibility.

Map 1. Approximate Territory of James Bay Cree Hunters

The Cree are efficient enough at hunting that they could deplete the game. Regulation is both an individual and a community responsibility and is assisted through a system of stewardships. All the land on which they hunt is divided into territories that are under the stewardship of elders. The approximately 300 territories vary in size from about 300 to several thousand square kilometres, each supervised by a steward (see Map 1). They are part of larger blocks, each associated with a particular Cree community. While rights to land and resources are distributed to the community as a whole, as a continuing society extending over generations, the stewards exercise authority over the territories in the name of the community and the common interest. The steward's authority is, in principle, spiritually sanctioned, thus obligating him to protect and share the resources.

In general, all members of a community have the right to hunt on any land on a short-term basis, while travelling through, while camping for brief periods, or while using small game or fish resources. However, extended and intensive use of the larger game resources is generally considered to be under the supervision and approval of the stewards.

Stewards generally grow up in a territory on which they hunt repeatedly over many years before they take over their role. During this time they build up extensive ties with the spirits of the land and acquire a vast knowledge of its resources. They are constantly aware of the changing conditions of the game populations. They note changes in the frequency of signs of moose, the numbers yarding together, the rates of twin births, and age and sex ratios. For beaver, they note changes in the number and size of colonies, size of litters, and the frequency of abandoned or new colonies. They can easily discuss these trends with an outsider, comparing present conditions with those of last year, the year before, or five years ago.

These trends are important to the stewards, and they discuss them with other stewards and elder hunters, comparing patterns in different territories and relating them to changes in weather, vegetation, and hunting activity. Some of the trends observed by the stewards are the same ones used by wildlife biologists to monitor game populations, although few biologists have such long-term and detailed knowledge. The trends are also important because they are communications from animals and spirits. Thus, if too many animals were killed in the past, the animals would be "mad" and have fewer young or make signs of their presence harder to find. This would indicate that the animals wish to give fewer of themselves, and, out of reciprocal respect, the hunters will take less than in the past.

The stewards use their knowledge to direct the intensive hunting of the animal populations on their territories. Each steward has the right to decide if the hunting territory will be used intensively in any season, how many and which people can use it, how much they can hunt of each key species, and where and when they can hunt. The stewards do not exercise these powers in an authoritarian manner. The responsibility of each hunter is assumed, and each is given respect and considerable autonomy. Stewards usually act by suggestion and by non-personal public commentaries on the situation, and their knowledge, their spiritual ties to the land, and the sacred sanctions for their statements give them considerable influence.

The system is part of the network of social reciprocities. At the individual level, a system of giving privileges to hunters to join groups generally assures that each hunter has a place to hunt each year. For the community as a whole, the system permits the distribution of hunters and hunting to respond to the changes in the conditions of the game populations.

Typically, each steward inherits his position from a previous steward, and he has the duty to designate his successor. This places each steward within a chain of responsible authority that extends backwards and forwards. The land and animals are thus received also as gifts from previous generations, and the present hunters view their own actions as implying the same respect and responsibility to future generations.

In practice, the system of hunting-territory stewardships works to maintain an ongoing balance between harvests and game. This is generally possible for beaver and moose populations, and in some areas for marten. The system can apply to fishing, but communities may instead limit the numbers of fishing sites, the mesh sizes of the nets, and the length of fishing seasons (Berkes, 1977). For goose hunting along the James Bay coast, the Cree recognize adjacent groups of bays as goosehunting territories under a "goose boss" who supervises a complex of hunting rules and restrictions designed not to scare the migratory geese away prematurely but to encourage their return on successive days and migrations (Scott, 1983).

Several studies supply quantitative evidence that the Cree system does work for the moose, beaver, fish, and geese populations, by keeping harvests below sustainable yields of the game populations. The best indicator of success is the relative stability of the game populations over the two decades during which estimates have been made. These data indicate that the long-term ecological balance sought by the Cree is, in general, maintained in practice. Furthermore, the Cree have been highly responsive to changing environmental and historical circumstances in pursuing a balanced hunt.

Moose began migrating into the James Bay region of Quebec only after vast forest fires swept the area in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of this century. The Cree had hunting territories prior to this time, and indeed probably had them periodically in the post-contact period and before the arrival of Europeans. The incorporation of moose into the system, however, depended on the development of a sound body of knowledge of moose behaviour and moose population dynamics and on creating effective types of restraints on hunting. Such systems were developed in the areas inhabited by dense moose populations between 1910, when the moose began arriving, and the 1950s, when intensive studies of Cree hunting began.

The Cree system has also responded to important demographic, technological, and economic changes. During this century the Cree have generally maintained viable game populations through a period in which numbers of Cree may have risen five fold. To increase their food production they have intensificd and diversified their use of some game populations but have also limited their bush food production to sustainable levels. They therefore now have to purchase a proportion of their food.

The more intensive harvesting has occurred with the aid of important additions to their technological repertoire, including improved rifles and shotguns, new traps, and some new means of transportation. But the use of this technology still depends on Cree knowledge, cultural values, and social practices. The technology, therefore, has not led to over-hunting, but rather to a more secure balance between men and animals. The Cree have also maintained the balance despite periods of a shortage of cash. In such times they have done without some trade goods rather than exhaust animal resources. They have intentionally kept alive many traditional skills and crafts that could replace certain trade goods should these become unavailable. And they have continued to treat cash and trade goods as a socially modified form of property, using them for co-operative ends by integrating their distribution and consumption into the widespread reciprocal exchange practices.

The Cree have thus maintained their hunting and the animals in their region despite important changes in their environment and in historical circumstances. However, rare periods of breakdown in the balance of men and animals have also occurred.

The most serious of these happened in the 1930s, when beaver were severely depleted throughout much of northeastern Canada. This has been variously attributed to epidemic disease, to Native over-hunting, and to non-Native trappers. The reasons may never be known for all regions, and they probably varied from one area to another. In the southernmost portion of the Cree area, non-Native trappers, encouraged by high fur prices, entered the region from the railway l00 miles to the south, trapped out one place, and then moved on. Some of the Cree from this area say that they themselves trapped out the beaver because they did not see the possibility of maintaining animal populations if non-Native trappers continued to deplete their lands. It is significant that the only species over-hunted in this area were beaver and maven, the ones sought by non-Native trappers. Declining fur prices in the l930s and the concern of the government for the ensuing plight of the Indians led to a closing of the area to non-Native trappers and a recovery of the beaver under Cree supervision between 1930 and l950.

This example emphasizes the limits of the means at the disposal of the Cree for maintaining viable long-term balanced relations with animals. Culture and social organization of the Cree are effective aids for their self-governance, but they could not regulate or control the impact of what outsiders do on their lands. Further, where outsiders did not act responsibly and with respect, their activities threatened the animals and the Cree themselves.

The Cree recovered from the impact of the intrusions of the twenties and thirties, but a crisis developed again in the 1970s when the government of Quebec started to build a massive hydroelectric project on their hunting lands. To understand the events of this second crisis, we have to turn from an examination of Cree culture and hunting to an account of Cree-white interactions.


Part II: Cree Autonomy in the Face of Government Intervention

Part III: Cree Autonomy and the Aboriginal Rights Agreement