Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in unhappy as Yukon government opens Fortymile caribou hunt

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Chief Roberta Joseph says the Yukon government is acting too quickly in allowing a hunt of the Fortymile caribou herd.

The territorial government opened the hunt Jan. 1. It will issue 25 permits at a time to a maximum of 225 until the end of March.

The Fortymile herd's population has increased from a low of 6,500 animals to around 84,000 today, although that's far below the herd's historical peak of 500,000.

Joseph said Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in is not opposed to a licensed hunt. But the First Nation is still in the process of negotiating a herd management plan for the Fortymile herd with the Yukon government under the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Final Agreement.

"We strongly feel that there is a lack of respect for honouring what's outlined in the agreement," Joseph said.

A spokesperson with Environment Yukon said the hunt was approved by the territory's Fish and Wildlife Management Board and the Dawson District Renewable Resources Council. 

"The licensed harvest is designed to ensure Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in' rights are upheld and 'signoff' is not required," Megan Foreman wrote in an email.

Joseph said Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in is still in "conservation mode" and has voluntarily suspended its subsistence hunt in recent years. That will no longer be the case, Joseph said.

Philippe Morin/CBC

"The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in had made a huge sacrifice," she said.

"For volunteering not to harvest the Fortymile caribou for over 25 years, we've lost our traditional engagement and relationship with the Fortymile caribou. A whole generation has not experienced that relationship and traditional knowledge."

Joseph also said she's concerned there are still gaps in scientific knowledge about the Fortymile herd's movement.

"For example, there's not a lot of caribou that comes over into the Yukon," she said. She's concerned about the impact the licensed hunt will have on those animals.

The Yukon government says finalizing the management plan, which has been under negotiation since 2013, is "a priority." But Joseph said Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in has been pushing to finalize the plan, without much interest from the government.

"There's been no appetite from them to come to the table.... This is a mandate from our treaty agreement and we would appreciate if the Yukon government could honour our agreement."