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MLA calls for Kivalliq Inuit to take action on caribou

A Kivalliq MLA is calling on Inuit in the region come up with a plan to protect the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd from a continued population decline.

Last month in the legislative assembly, Cathy Towtongie, Rankin North and Chesterfield Inlet MLA, raised concerns about caribou “being massacred for financial gain” by hunters trying to make a living off the herd.

A hunter stands in the middle of a herd of caribou during the recent migration just outside of Rankin Inlet. Cathy Towtongie, Rankin North and Chesterfield Inlet MLA, recently raised concerns about caribou “being massacred for financial gain” in the legislative assembly. Now she is calling on Indigenous leaders in the Kivalliq to take action. Cody Punter/NNSL photo

In an interview with Kivalliq News last week Towtongie said meat wastage, people disturbing the migration of the herd and hunters selling meat for profit were placing a huge strain on the caribou.

“We're going to decimate our herd – at what cost? Our rights? Look at what happened to Baffin,” she said.

According to the most recent available numbers, the Qamanirjuaq herd has declined in size by nearly 50 per cent from an estimated size of 500,000 in 1994 to 264,000 in 2014. A new survey was conducted in 2017. Although official numbers will not be available until next year, Premier Joe Savikataaq told the assembly that preliminary results indicate a continuing decline.

Towtongie pointed out that the sale of caribou is not covered in the Nunavut Land Claims agreement because according to traditional culture meat was to be shared. Towtongie said the growth in the Kivalliq's population, the loss of traditional knowledge and the demand for country food elsewhere in the territory due to declining caribou numbers were never anticipated by Nunavut's founding fathers.

“In our history Inuit did not just go out there mindlessly and kill animals,” she said.

Call for commercial quota

The massive market for caribou harvested in the Kivalliq has been attributed in part to the fact that communities on Baffin Island have been limited to a quota of 250 tags for bull caribou since 2014 as a result of the herd decreasing by 95 per cent to just 5,000 animals.

According to government estimates the Qamanirjuaq herd generates $11 million in annual revenue for commercial hunters in Nunavut, Sask. and Man.

But Towtongie said without any any monitoring system in place it is impossible to keep track of exactly how many caribou are being hunted.

The Nunavut Land Claim Agreement ensures that Inuit the right to harvest wildlife without restrictions.

Towtongie said hunters should be able to hunt as much as they want in order to feed their families but that there should be some form of regulation in place to keep the commercial sale of caribou under control.

“There has to be control and monitoring and we need to see if a quota should be set aside for commercial purposes.”

Any changes to the wildlife would require a consensus from the local HTO, regional wildlife board, NTI and the territorial government.

“They have to come together for an emergency meeting sometime and have a strategy session and do it rationally and logically, because if we just observe what's happening we're going to be without our herd,” she said.

Stanley Adjuk, chair of the Keewatin Wildlife Board, could not be reached for comment.

Brian Sigurdson, the chair of Rankin HTO, said he could not comment on the matter at the moment because he would have discuss the issue with other stakeholders first.

NTI president Aluki Kotierk was at a conference out of town and was unable to comment.

Enforce existing laws

Towtongie said it's not just a matter of coming up with new regulations, but enforcing existing ones. She pointed to the issues of meat wastage and disrupting the migration of the herds as prime examples.

“With the loss of our elders we're getting irresponsible hunters,” she said. “Some hunters are professional, they know what kind of caribou to kill, but some are not.”

During the migration over the past few weeks Kivalliq News has heard numerous complaints, ranging from whole caribou with gun shot wounds being left unharvested to youngsters chasing the herd on ATVs for fun and firing guns in the direction of people watching the migration.

Towtongie said more resources need to be devoted to enforcing the wildlife act, especially during migration season.

“We have to be rational and logical with how we deal with our needs for the future.”