The cost of blood on the snow

Michael
Michael Johansen
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By the time these words are published, all 100 caribou in the Joir River Group - which has been meandering through the woodlands south of Minipi Lake - could be dead.

That, at least, is the fear of many who watched as 35 to 40 hunters from Innu communities along the Quebec North Shore drove their snowmobiles to the height of land north of Lac Fourmont this week and then sent for their wives and children.



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By the time these words are published, all 100 caribou in the Joir River Group - which has been meandering through the woodlands south of Minipi Lake - could be dead.

That, at least, is the fear of many who watched as 35 to 40 hunters from Innu communities along the Quebec North Shore drove their snowmobiles to the height of land north of Lac Fourmont this week and then sent for their wives and children.

Concerned citizens, who are reluctant to be identified, say that while Quebec hunters who went after the same endangered animals a few months ago didn't get any, this time people expect to see "blood on the snow."

The herds in the southwestern corner of Labrador are not doing well. With 100 animals, the Joir River Group is called the largest "pocket" of endangered caribou in the area. Hunting them is against the law, but they were targeted by Quebec Innu in 2007, when they were accused of reducing the group down to about 50 individuals.

Quebec Innu had previously gone after animals from the protected Red Wine Mountain herd around Cache River in 2004. Opponents are harsh in their criticisms.

"These hunters say, 'I don't care if I kill the last caribou. I'll eat the meat,'" one observer alleges.

In 2004, the hunters were accused of "shooting off hostages" by killing almost half of the remaining Red Wine herd, since they were claiming they did it for political reasons. The Innu who live in Quebec are closely related to those in Sheshatshiu and they claim the exact same aboriginal rights over territory that happens to be in Labrador.



Facing extinction

As well, while some say no Red Wine caribou were actually harmed in 2004, leaders did justify the possible extinction of a herd through hunting by saying that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will wipe them out anyway through uncontrolled mining, forestry and hydroelectric developments.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is talking tough, as it always does in its conflicts with the Quebec Innu. Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale is sending just about every conservation officer she has to the area (she would not reveal the exact number), but she admitted there's not much they can do beyond laying charges afterwards.

"We can only do what we're doing," she said. "We can only appeal to their good sense."

Dunderdale (who's been down this road before) says the officers will monitor what happens and gather evidence if they observe any wrongdoing.

"We will press forward with charges if we have the evidence," she said, although this followed a note of concern about how events might otherwise unfold: "They (the hunters) have introduced a great deal of volatility into the situation when they bring in their families."

The minister said the government has sent people to talk with community leaders and has offered to make the George River caribou herd available for their hunting. She said she cannot "fathom" their reasons for pursuing the hunt of the endangered groups. She insisted the preservation of the herd should be the paramount concern of everyone involved.

However, if neither the province's carrot nor its stick succeed in stopping the hunt, all that will be left is the reckoning.

After 2004 at Cache River, three charged hunters were found guilty and fined $5,000 each. If, by chance, all 40 of the reported hunters south of Minipi do take out the whole herd, as many fear they will, it'll only cost them $2,000 per animal for a total of $200,000.

hat's cheap as far as political campaigns go, even if it means losing their rifles. If they're lucky they might get to keep some of the meat.



Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Joir River Group

Geographic location: Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Red Wine Mountain Minipi Lake Cache River Quebec North Shore Sheshatshiu George River Minipi

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