Unusual weather causing concerns for leaders
-Monias Fiddler - Special to Wawatay News
Kashechewan’s hunters are not bringing home enough geese to stock up for the coming summer months.
“Our freezers will be empty because of the poor hunting and warm weather,” said Kashechewan Deputy Chief William Sutherland, explaining his community has been affected both by the short winter road season and the lack of geese. “The geese are just flying through – they get a few here and there, just enough to eat once for one day.”
Kashechewan’s community members usually store food from the geese hunting season and the winter road season to get them through the summer months.
“They will have empty freezers for the summer,” Sutherland said. “Usually they use that food to survive through the summer so they don’t have to buy high priced groceries.”
The hunters usually harvest enough geese to stockpile for the summer months as the geese congregate near the community during their annual migration to more northerly destinations, Sutherland said, but this year most of the geese have been flying straight past the community without stopping.
“They normally stay around for a while and congregate,” Sutherland said, noting James Bay is already open. “It is pretty dangerous for our community members because of the warm winter and early thaw. The ice is very thin and it is very dangerous for the community members to travel, so we had to tell the community hunters to stop using the river early this year because of the danger.”
Kashechewan didn’t have very much snow this winter, Sutherland said, so the water levels on the Albany River are lower than normal.
“We don’t have to worry about the flood this year because there is no water – there was hardly any snow,” Sutherland said. “We had no snow this year – it hasn’t rained for quite a while now.”
Kashechewan had a very early spring this year, Sutherland said, explaining that the weather turned warm in March.
“We had very little water this year – hardly any breakup,” Sutherland said. “It seems like the winter is getting shorter each year. We didn’t have time to haul all our fuel into the community, all the things that we used to haul into the community.
Our store is going to run out of fuel next month.”
Pikangikum and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug are also concerned about the low water conditions.
“The water is low,” said Pikangikum Chief Jonah Strang. “We’re on the river system and it is still low, it hasn’t gone up or down. There is no flooding anywhere, even the marsh areas are dry.”
Pikangikum’s summer route to their nearest access road goes through a number of channels, Strang said, explaining continued low water levels could cause problems for community members as well as the community’s barge.
“It will be tough traveling this summer to where our vehicles are because it is usually shallow there,” Strang said. “We’re sort of worried about our barging. I’m not sure we will be able to barge anything in. We missed the winter road (and) we have a big project coming up.”
Pikangikum needs to haul in building supplies this summer for their new training centre due to a deadline to complete the project.
“The snow has been gone out for a long time now,” said KI Chief Donny Morris. “It’s really dry and I think the fire component will be really looked at this coming summer. Camping and building garbage fires, we will have to stay away from that.”
The water levels are also low on Big Trout Lake and its incoming rivers and creeks.
“Trying to go up these rivers to fish and hunt is going to affect us,” Morris said. “We have to watch out for points definitely, because usually on points there are reefs and shallow areas and those will have to be marked.”
Morris is also concerned about Big Trout Lake’s fish resources.
“We won’t know until it (Big Trout Lake) opens up,” Morris said. “We won’t be able to see how the fish will be able to migrate if the rivers are dry. They need water to go up and if there is no water flowing down, they are just going to be caught at the mouth.”
If the weather stays drier than normal throughout the summer, Morris said it would be beneficial for the fall hunting season.
“I am just content with what we have,” Morris said. “With this dry weather, I am hoping we will have a good season in the fall with our egg laying waterfowl and partridges. That’s a trade off. Less mosquitoes, less frogs if there is less water.”
Sandy Lake had very little snow this winter and will likely have an early breakup.
“From what I can tell it looks like it will be an early breakup,” said Sandy Lake Chief Adam Fiddler. “What happened this winter was there was an early cold snap and the water froze very quickly. It was all clear blue strong ice and there wasn’t much snow on top to insulate it.”
Although the ice was thick this winter, Fiddler said an Elder told him lack of slushy white ice could mean faster melting because the white ice usually acts as an insulator.
“The fear is the forest fire season is upon us already and it is only mid-April,” Fiddler said. “We have had quite a few cases of grass fires going out of control so it is going to be a major forest fire season because there isn’t much water in the bush.”
Kingfisher is also looking at dry conditions and an early breakup this year as well.
“It’s about a month early,” said Kingfisher Chief James Mamakwa. “I think the rivers are opening up and the lakes are starting to open up now.”
Although the community ordered building supplies for the construction of three new homes this summer, the orders did not arrive due to the early spring closure of the winter roads.
“We ordered three but we haven’t got anything yet so we will have to fly them in,” Mamakwa said, adding that travel on the land is very risky right now. “We stopped using snow machines right now and told people to use boats whenever they want to go across. (The lake) is starting to open up now. It’s been early this year.”
Mamakwa said the Elders have seen a similar weather conditions in the past.
“They might have seen something similar years ago but not as early as this,” Mamakwa said. “Every year seems to be a little different nowadays. It seems it is changing a little every year.”
This spring is the also the earliest breakup witnessed in Eabametoong since the new community was built in 1962, said Eabametoong Chief Lewis Nate, explaining that one of his councillors told him that he never saw the ice moving this early before.
“This is the first time he has seen in the middle of April the ice starting to move,” Nate said, noting that water levels are also “pretty low” this spring. “We have a bit of a snowstorm right now in Fort Hope, so maybe the water will go a little higher. But it is really dry.”
Snow levels were also low throughout the winter and it began melting in February, Nate said.
“It was really going quick, even back in February it was starting to deteriorate,” Nate said.
But right now, the main concern in the community is where the geese will land.
“They are here, but they land all over the place because there is a lot of open water and shoreline where they can land,” Nate said. “It’s more harder for the hunters now because they can’t travel – the travel is bad.”
Nate is calling for society to get rid of all the smokestacks to stop the changing weather conditions.
“This is just the beginning as I see it,” Nate said. “It started way back when. When I was hunting there would still be a lot of snow and we needed snowshoes to go hunting. Now we can’t even go on a snowmachine anymore. It’s too dangerous. We lost a month of winter on both ends.”
Meanwhile, the Ontario government invested about $96,000 into local First Nation efforts to combat climate change.
Matawa First Nations Management will receive $61,771.87 to deliver climate change workshops to all nine member First Nations as well as to community schools, and to create a calendar capable of reaching 8,000 people, focused on ways to achieve a lower-carbon lifestyle.
“Environmental action starts at home and in our communities,” said Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle. “I am thrilled to announce this investment by our government for Matawa First Nations. We’re funding a variety of groups across the province to motivate people to join Ontario in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Namaygoosisagagun Ojibway Development Corporation will receive $35,020 for their First Nation Green Initiative to combine traditional respect of land and sustainability with modern recycling, waste management and conservation practices.
“Raising awareness about climate change and how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions is necessary information for all of us,” said Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro. “This funding will provide an opportunity for Namaygoosisagagun Ojibway Development Corporation to hold workshops focused on doing just that.”
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