The tribal village of Waswanipi, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) north of Montreal, has been fighting for years to preserve some 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) of pristine forests in the Broadback river valley. Loggers have already cut swathes through 90% of adjacent lands.
For the Cree tribe, one of 11 indigenous ethnic groups present in Quebec, protecting the forest also means protecting the reindeer, moose and other wildlife being pushed further and further north by logging and climate change. The Cree grand chief signed an accord with the Quebec government in July, 2015, to preserve 9,134 square kilometers of woodland caribou habitat along the 450-kilometer Broadback, which flows through the taiga to the Arctic.
But Waswanipi trappers said, "The deal does too little to safeguard their land. Half of the areas protected from logging under the accord were already off-limits to forestry firms. Since the government of Quebec unveiled a conservation plan for the north that paradoxically opened the door to more logging along the Broadback river, the town of Waswanipi has felt under siege."
The Boreal forest is at the heart of these northern peoples' identity. For generations, the native hunters have kept a watch over this land, keeping tallies on the fauna and inspecting trap lines. Although snowmobiles may have replaced dogs and sleds and boats with outboard motors displaced canoes, most of the 16,000 Crees living in Quebec still uphold their nomadic ancestors' traditions.
About four decades ago, the Quebec government started building massive hydro-electric dams in the north to supply cheap electricity to the province and northeastern US states. In exchange for supporting these government projects, the Cree gained some political independence and significant funding. Quebec also recognized their historical hunting rights but the state maintained control over natural resources within its borders.
To help them in their fight against forestry firms, the Cree recruited Greenpeace, which deployed a massive banner in the outback, legible from the sky that reads: 'Save the Broadback!' However, Greenpeace's activism has angered the Quebec government and it is embroiled in litigation with forestry giant Resolu Forest Products that alleges it was defamed by the group.
Greenpeace biologist Nicolas Mainville said, "Few people in Quebec have ever laid eyes on such pristine forestland, it is truly something very rare indeed. We have to take a strong stand when it comes to protecting the forest from a company that wants to build a bridge over this river to get to the other side and cut down one of the last virgin forests in Quebec."