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The natural paradise that the Naskapis want to protect at all costs

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David Swappie insisted on wearing the traditional Naskapi hat when taking this photo.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

I think it’s at least 100 years old, throws his grandson, who bears the same name. He is the translator, as David Swappie only speaks Naskapi.

At the beginning of the last century, from Fort-Chimo, David Swappie senior, left with his family for Fort McKenzie, Waskaikini, for the Naskapis, further north. This is where many Naskapis converge, especially to talk to Hudson Bay representatives.

David Swappie junior is like his grandfather: he wants the Cambrian Lake area to be protected.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

This is where there is still a field today. And a cemetery. This is also the place where the Naskapi want to establish a vast protected area, but not only that.

Their ancestral territory, they say, does not stop at Fort McKenzie, but goes much further: it is the entire Cambrian and Nachicapau lakes region, located northwest of Kawawachikamach.

This vast expanse of 5740 km2, more than ten times the surface of the island of Montreal, it is located in the heart of the traditional Naskapi territory. It is a gem for the Naskapis. And it’s not David Swappie who says otherwise. Neither nephew of him who also cares about this land.

All his childhood memories, before his community was moved to Kawawachikamach, are there. His first hunt, days of him playing around the fire, watching his elders catch and fish.

I fell in love with this land, because there is everything theresaid the major. Even if life was hard there. David Swappie remembers the light clothes given to them by whites. That sometimes you had to go far, far away, to hunt.

Even today, he confides: I would rather be there than here, trying to be assimilated. I really miss it. I don’t like following a white guy who tells me what to do.

A quote from David Swappiesenior

To help the community in its efforts to make it a protected area, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) went to work. They were sent by the Naskapis because this territory it is coveted for its potentialexplains Alice De Swarte, Senior Director of the Quebec Section.

The region concerned is for the moment preserved from any mining or hydroelectric activity.

Photo: CPAWS-Quebec, Benoit Tremblay

Robert Prévost, who serves as an advisor to the Naskapis, confirms that several mining companies are observing this area. Iron, rare earths … Naskapis sit down a gold mine.

And if the Cambrian Lake sector is fully protected from these activities, this is not the case with Lake Nachicapau. The mines are exploring all around. Quebec did not want to make it a protected area, but rather a reserve for the statecontinues Mr. Prévost.

Many Naskapi left Kuujjuaq in Nunavik to reach Fort McKenzie.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Eye on the Arctic / Eilís Quinn

The territory is also in the sights of Hydro-Québec, which had a dam project in the area. This would have the effect of engulfing the entire site. It would be an insurmountable loss for the Naskapiassures Ms De Swarte.

Former leader Noah Swappie agrees. He explains that the Naskapis signed an agreement with the state-owned company in 2018 that no dams will be built for the next 20 years. They will then have to do a consultation to obtain our consent. They didn’t like that wordhe says.

Hydro-Québec confirms this agreement, which also includes the government of Quebec and the Inuit.

There are still graves near Fort McKenzie.

Photo: CPAWS-Quebec, François Léger-Savard

Even 20 years from now, Noah Swappie doesn’t think Naskapi opinion will have changed. We will go as far as possible to stop this projectensures.

Hydro-Québec always has plans… If we don’t protect our territory, there will be nothing leftadds, referring to the Inuit and Cree who, for their part, they are very advanced in the protection of their territory.

However, this agreement provides for the search for alternatives to hydroelectric development. Francis Labbé, spokesman for Hydro-Québec, specifies that a committee representing the stakeholders has been set up for this purpose.

All the ways are studiedhe says, citing wind power as an example.

The Naskapi don’t want a dam on their land, like this one, north of La Tuque.

Photo: Hydro-Quebec

Like David Swappie Sr., Noah Swappie is passionate about this territory. It is often used to organize outings for young people, to do healing ceremonies, we camp there. Yes, we have moved, but we still use ithe says, showing photos of his last trip there, on a snowmobile.

In addition to having cultural significance, the area is exceptional in terms of geology and biodiversity.

There are shifting dunes, lakes with turquoise waters, subarctic broad-leaved trees, while in the north there are mainly conifers. There are endangered species such as the golden eagle and the peregrine falcon. It is important to protect our nature librarysays Alice De Swarte again.

Fort McKenzie is located approximately 100km from the Kawawachikamach community.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Delphine Jung

Biologists and archaeologists have set foot in the Cambrian Lake region to do research. They should return in August.

There is a problem of orality for the Naskapi, because we have found ancient traces thereexplains Ms De Swarte.

Two archaeologists were accompanied by two Naskapis for this expedition. There we found 22 archaeological sites, which testify to a past occupationsays Moira McCaffrey, one of the archaeologists, adding that it was first necessary to delimit the research areas in this vast space.

There are shifting dunes in the Cambrian and Nachicapau lakes area.

Photo: CPAWS-Quebec, François Léger-Savard

Glass beads, traces of bonfires, stone tools … Several artifacts have been found on the spot.

Noah Swappie dreams of this protected area for his community, but also for Quebecs. He would like to find out through the creation of an ecotourism project.

Because even the former boss knows, a Hydro-Quebec project would come with possible royalties paid to the community, but this idea of ​​ecotourism could be an option. You have to find the balance. We don’t want to destroy the whole territory for moneyHe said.

We would receive money from Hydro-Québec, that’s for sure, but it’s not just about moneyadds David Swappie.

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