Officials monitoring alleged illegal caribou hunt in Labrador

·3 min read

Late last week reports began circulating on social media alleging a group of hunters from Quebec had travelled to southern Labrador to hunt caribou, believed to be the threatened Joir River herd, a small group of the Mealy Mountain herd that is the most southeasterly caribou of their range.

SaltWire Network contacted the Department of Fisheries, Forestry, and Agriculture, which confirmed the department is aware of a group of people who travelled to Labrador from Quebec.

“Resource enforcement officers located these individuals when they initially arrived and advised the group that any harvesting of caribou in the Labrador region is illegal,” the department said in a statement. “There are now in excess of 30 snowmobiles in the area. Officers have made patrols to the area and have observed illegally harvested caribou.”

The statement said evidence has been collected and enforcement action will be taken as the investigation continues.

Hunting caribou is illegal in Labrador, and over the years a handful of hunters from Quebec have been charged and convicted with illegal hunting of the herds.

Most recently, three Pakua Shipi Innu men were convicted in January of violating the Wildlife Act and obstruction related to illegal caribou hunting in 2015.

The Pakua Shipi Innu hunt in the area annually and have said in the past they dispute the official numbers of the herd and the impact of hunting.

Hollis Yetman with the Labrador Hunting and Fishing Association posted about the hunt on Friday, saying the hunters had left Quebec a few days before and spent a night at a hotel near the Quebec-Labrador border before heading into the country.

SaltWire spoke with Yetman, who said the hunt happens this time every year like clockwork, and he understands the challenges wildlife officers face when trying to enforce the hunting ban. The remoteness of the area where they hunt, different provincial jurisdictions, the time it takes to mobilize enough officers to respond, and the challenge of confronting a large group of armed men are just some factors, he said.

Yetman said consultations need to happen within the communities, and within the Indigenous governments, the provinces and the federal government, “with everybody at the table and find out what the real issues are.”

“You have to get at the table and hash out what the real issues and solutions are and deal with it at the table. You can’t deal with it in the country. It’s already too late then.”

Yetman said with the caribou numbers as low as they are, the time for enforcement has passed and it’s up to the different governments to find a solution.

Everyone he’s spoken to with the federal, provincial and Indigenous governments has been upset about the hunt that happens in the area every year, but it keeps happening, he said.

“It makes me believe that everybody, except the Innu in this situation, is powerless,” Yetman said. “They must be, because they can’t stop it. I would say the federal and provincial government is weak. When the hunting happens it’s already too late. I challenge them all to get up and deal with it, behind the scenes, do something and start talks to keep these caribou alive.”

The Nunatukavut Community Council (NCC), which represents the Southern Inuit of Labrador, released a statement on Sunday about the illegal hunting, saying they are concerned and disappointed to hear of the hunt.

NCC President Todd Russell said they are closely monitoring the situation and are working with provincial authorities to share information.

He said in their view, there are no legitimate grounds for taking these animals at this time and NunatuKavut Inuit “have always had a fundamentally important relationship with caribou and our approach has been one of respect."

“We have a responsibility as Inuit, as do other Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, to do all we can to protect the caribou and their habitat," Russell said. "This is necessary so that future generations can know about caribou, and to always have it be part of our culture.”

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram