How I use science to protect my people’s birthright

How I use science to protect my people’s birthright

I’m Guardian of the Pipmuakan forest in the Nitassinan territory of Quebec, Canada. I act as the eyes and ears of my people, the Innu, so that we can protect the caribou (atik in the Innu language). The caribou, or reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), is sacred to the Innu. For centuries, it provided us with food, clothes and tools.

In my work, I combine ancestral knowledge with new technologies. The knowledge includes how to assess the ice thickness and snow depth, and how to identify the freshness of animal tracks. Drones, satellite images and GPS are among the new technologies I use.

I travel across the Pipmuakan area at least four days a week on either my quad bike or snowmobile, looking for caribou tracks and other signs of herds and their predators. I also set traps for wolves.

Caribou are very sensitive, so I always avoid getting close to them. When I see new caribou tracks, I use the drone to identify their location and confirm the number of animals in the herd, whether they are male, female or both, and if there are new calves. The drone also allows me to spot herds behind dense thickets without scaring them.

Logging is the main threat to this forest and to the caribou. In winter, caribou eat lichen from trees. But logging destroys the lichen, and allows wolves — the caribou’s main predator — to see their prey from afar.

In this picture from the third quarter of last year, I was crossing Kakuskanus lake in a pontoon boat to reach a remote area of the forest. My grandparents drowned in this lake when their canoe overturned. For 36 years, I couldn’t visit this place. I was mourning.

But in 2017 I felt an urge to protect the land and came back. A century ago, there were thousands of caribou here. Now there are fewer than 200. Without the caribou, the Innu wouldn’t have survived in this forest. Now it’s time for us to help the caribou. I want my grandchildren and the following generations to experience the richness of this forest.

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