Innu will hunt caribou despite government order

Andrew Robinson
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Province announces five-year ban on George River herd harvest

Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson (centre), Justice Minister Darin King (left) and Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Felix Collins speak to reporters at Confederation Building about Labrador’s George River Caribou herd. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The provincial government says the continued decline in size of the George River caribou herd in Labrador makes it necessary to implement a five-year hunting ban. But at least one aboriginal group is not buying that story.

“We’ve been talking to our elders, and they did not agree to a total ban on our people,” said Prote Poker, grand chief of the Innu Nation.  “We always favour conservation, but a total ban is not justified.”

According to the provincial government’s most recent census results, the size of the herd is now less than 20,000 caribou. That is more than a 70 per cent decline from the July 2010 estimate of 74,000. In the late the 1980s, the herd’s size was believed to be 800,000.

“The George River herd continues to experience a very serious decline, and strong action is required by our government to address the immediate and long-term protection of this important resource,” said Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson.

“Our first priority is conservation of these animals, and that is why we are imposing a total allowable harvest of zero on this herd.”

Hedderson said the ban will be reviewed in two years based on the herd’s status and health.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Felix Collins, who sat alongside Hedderson and Justice Minister Darin King at a news conference Monday afternoon, said discussions have taken place over the course of several weeks with aboriginal groups that traditionally hunt caribou. Some of those groups had already publicly discouraged their members from harvesting the George River herd.

Hedderson said that Nick McGrath, minister responsible for Labrador affairs, had recently held discussions with the Innu Nation on the matter. Poker confirmed that when speaking with The Telegram. He implied that the Innu Nation is not subject to such decisions ordered by the province.

“He called me this afternoon with that decision, and I said, ‘We’re not a part of that decision.’”

King said fish and wildlife enforcement officers are regularly monitoring the hunt in Labrador.

“We are conducting patrols with vehicles, snowmobiles and heli-copters. We also have additional resources at our disposal should the need arise. There is an operation plan in place with fish and wildlife, and it’s prepared to handle situations where we may have to deal with large groups of hunters.”

Poker knows what to expect if his people choose to not recognize the hunting ban implemented by the province.

“We anticipate that we will hunt and we will get charged for it. That’s the measure we will take, because we don’t condone this at all.”

Willing to reduce harvest

Poker said the Innu Nation is willing to reduce the number of caribou it hunts in the interest of conservation. In recent years, the group has killed approximately 800-900 animals annually.

That figure was down to 680 last year, and Poker said the Innu Nation was willing to limit its hunt to 300 caribou in 2013.

Caribou hunted by the Innu Nation is not sold, according to Poker, and the animal has important ceremonial value for the Mukushan — a communal meal of caribou meat.

“We recognize and respect aboriginal culture and traditions,” said Collins during the news conference at the Confederation Building. “But in this case, given the decline of the George River caribou herd, the need for conservation must be paramount.”

Reacting to the decline in size of the herd, Poker said elders within the Innu Nation pointed to past incidents of dramatic decline in wildlife populations that later rebounded.

Members of the Innu Nation harvested 70 caribou last week, and Poker said elders have commented on the quality of the caribou, believing they are healthier in comparison to recent years.

“They think the caribou is coming back.”

The 2012 fall classification data found five per cent of caribou in the herd were calfs and two per cent were large stags. Both those figures were down from the previous government figure for 2011 of 10 per cent and three per cent respectively.

Information from the caribou health-monitoring program also indicated that pregnancy rates were low in the herd, according to Hedderson.

Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds, a Liberal member, said the ban cannot be effective without involvement from Quebec, a province the herd navigates in addition to Labrador.

“I’ve always maintained that in the name of conservation, you need to get the stakeholders involved. There’s no mention of a co-management board.

“I think that’s the key. That brings the aboriginal groups and the governments to the table (and) gives that group the decision-making process.”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Confederation Building

Geographic location: George River, Labrador, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Jay
    January 30, 2013 - 07:16

    Ilona, You have a very romantic, inaccurate vision of the caribou hunt. Please do yourself a favor and speak to someone who lives in Labrador who is not using this issue as a political football . You may also want to read the post from Soul Searching.

  • Ilona Lovas Kwiatkowski
    January 29, 2013 - 20:31

    A humble comment from a non-native person. How many "game hunters" were allowed to purchase permits by the gov't and enter this territory to take home "trophies" in the last few years? In the name of economic whatever???? The indigenous peoples take what they need , respect the animal, thank the animal for giving itself up to sustain them, use all of the animal that has been hunted. What do the "game hunters" do? Just saying....

    • david
      January 30, 2013 - 10:38

      Your "knowledge" is severely tainted......I'd even call it pure, mythical ignorance.

  • META
    January 29, 2013 - 19:25

    The white families of labrador has a right to the caribou for food not just the Innu people. They kill along the highways and get away with it. If a white man or woman did that they would loose their vehicle and guns and then go to jail with a big fine,

  • Bitter and Mad
    January 29, 2013 - 17:52

    Just more government BS-BS-BS from MHA's that are looking for their 5 minutes of fame. The Indians slaughtered Caribou before as the Game Enforcement Officials took pictures and then did nothing to enforce the laws. Two years in a row they did not have the fortitude to do anything - why even go up there. Now we are suppose to think this is different ? Why not just say that there is a 5 year ban on hunting Caribou for everyone except the Quebec Indians or whatever you are suppose to call them at this specific time in "political correctness" history. Push too hard and one may go on a hunger strike and demand to see the Prime Minister. The NL Innu seem responsible at this time but will also hunt if they feel like it as it is their tradition - except they now use high powered snowmobiles, rifles, gps and sat. telephones. Bitter - you bet as we all own this land and obey the laws.

  • stephen
    January 29, 2013 - 17:48

    Did you expect anything different from the INNU. Kill of the herd and keep blaming the white man for their 200 -300 year old ills. heaven forbid they take responsibility for themselves in the 21st century The whole world has been Hard done by at one time or another,however most people carry on.

  • Sick and Tired
    January 29, 2013 - 09:24

    Just let them hunt all the Caribou until they are gone and then they can sue the rest of us for mismanagement of the herd.We are just wasting tax dollars trying to solve this before it becomes a crisis.Tired of reading about it

    • Jay
      January 29, 2013 - 09:50

      Paul, You're correct, the Innu feelings are probably not that different than the Newfoundlander's feelings about catching cod. However, one important difference is that the Newfoundlanders would be charged if they caught cod illegally. I lived in Labrador in the late 80s when the military was chastized for allegedly flying planes over caribou herds. There was a huge outcry about the harm that low level flying was doing, all in the name of conservation, even though the herd was doing much better then. Unfortunately, it seems that the caribou are more important as a political tool than as a food source. Please one more point: disagreeing with an Innu point of view does not automatically make you a racist.

  • Paul
    January 29, 2013 - 09:04

    I don't think the Innu are being very wise here, but lets apply some perspective and just think about how Newfoundlanders feel about the food fishery in the face of Federal governmetn mismanagement of the cod stocks, there is alot in common with how the Innu must feel about the GR Caribou...from day 1, in spite of the moratorium many Newfoundlanders insisted on their right to catch cod , believing that their food fishery would not harm the cod stocks...I'm not arguing about the biology but the perspective...many comments here are racist against the innu but ignore NL'rs own similar issues.

    • wavy
      January 29, 2013 - 10:32

      The cod moratorium is a perfect analogy. However, unlike the GR hunters, Newfoundlanders complied with the ban on fishing for cod. We didn't like it; despite scientific evidence suggesting the stocks were near decimation, many of us felt and still feel it was and is our birthright to fish for cod anytime we want to but, and it's a big but, most Newfoundlanders clenched their jaws and complied with the moratorium. Furthermore, and perhaps more to the point, anyone caught breaking the cod moratorium was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. DNA evidence, collected and analyzed from a smear of blood on a gut bucket, was used to convict several people in court. If government is serious about protecting the GR herd and enforcing the ban, similar resources and inexhaustible tenacity should be extended to enforce the GR caribou moratorium. We can only hope the provincial government of Quebec follows suit with similar legislation. No one is arguing from a racist perspective; actually, it's the opposite. The ban on hunting GR caribou is about conservation, preservation, equality and, hopefully, protection and enforcement of rights for ALL. For those reasons, no one of ANY ancestry or heritage is allowed to touch those caribou. It's as simple as that.

  • I agree
    January 29, 2013 - 08:47

    @Pissedoff, your sentiment is share by many... many people. Couldn't have said it better...

  • Whaddaya At ?
    January 29, 2013 - 08:42

    Who do Hedderson, Collins, and King think they're kidding ?. Talk is cheap and, when push comes to shove with the Inuu, the Prov. Gov't. will back off and turtle just like it's done in the past. I was a Public Servant in Labrador during the '80's and 90's when the George River caribou herd numbered 800,000. It's now approx. 20,000. What did the Prov.Gov'' while the herd was being decimated ?. It did nothing. Ditto for the Red Wine herd. Now, the Pro. Gov't. has brought the hammer down and actually expects the Inuu to tow the line ?. Hedderson, Collins and King are sitting on a powder keg and strict enforcement of the ban is the match that will set it off.

  • soul searching
    January 29, 2013 - 08:19

    the innu have ever right to hunt caribou and any other animal, for food. if they kill the last caribou, then so be it. its better that the innu kill it for food then it is for some white person to kill it for sport or some company to cause it to die because of its exploration activities.

  • Pissedoff
    January 29, 2013 - 08:11

    Am I the only one who is sick of the innu, or every other 'first nations' group for that matter getting special treatment? So you want to avail of EI, Social Assistance, healthcare and all the benefits of modern society but then it's a right to go hunt caribou because of your ancestry? If there was ever a case of 'have your cake and eat it too" its the Innu, Mi'kmaq, Qualipu and all the other so called "natives" who live in NL amongst us. And the Government's we have both here and Ottawa continue to bend over backwords for these clowns. Here's a deal, you can go hunt but you have to leave your new 4x4 truck and your $12,000 snowmobile and rifle home and go by dog team or snowshow with your bow and arrow. Yeah didnt think so.

  • Jeremiah
    January 29, 2013 - 08:09

    The law should be applied to everyone equally, race has nothing to do with it. This is about saving a caribou herd which has been viable for centuries.

    • david
      January 29, 2013 - 08:40

      Race has everything to do with it...this is pure racism, and is every bit as harmful, inequitable, and immoral as the opposite-directed racism. But no nowe has the gonads to face up to it...they just hand over more guilt money --- -MY money ---- and tell me how "big minded" they are for doing it. Pure BS.

  • steve
    January 29, 2013 - 08:04

    I know the govt. felt it needed to do something here, but this was probably not it. The Innu now have another chance to be the hero, to be the David that slays the Goliath of the white man, of white government in St. John's, Ottawa, wherever. Being dragged off in handcuffs for hunting caribou will be a hugely prestigious event for someone, and they'll be lining up to be that someone.

  • david
    January 29, 2013 - 07:57

    Aboriginals are among the absloute worst offenders of environmental atrocities...and if any non-native industrial activity is "worth it" to them, they want their payoff...err traditional rights. And becasue politicians are gutless and playing with 'free' money from us idiots, they hand it out like candy to stay in office a few more years. Will people ever wake up to this endless, mindless, two-faced extortion?

  • Hank
    January 29, 2013 - 07:44

    How can you help people like that, they are Killing off their own food supply and their way of life, The Government built them new homes and towns, Their homes look like a slum town with garbage in the streets, holes chopped in their houses windows broken out, A new town built by the Government Looking like a slum town in a couple of months, Native rights? they don't pay taxes they don't work if Indian Affairs gives them a new snow mobile they park it on the ice when the ice breaks up in the spring, Indian affairs gives them a new one in the fall.

  • WP
    January 29, 2013 - 06:50

    About time while there's some caribou left. Now lets see if the Innu who kill them are prosecuted.