Tuktu me, what ya herd?

Fancy that: a tremendously important event not covered at all by the media…

OK, so once again it’s been two weeks, and silly me for waiting, but this press release about the George River Caribou (“Tuktu” in Inuktitut) herd came and went. You can click on it and read it, but the crux of the story is that Inuit, Innu and Inuit/Métis living in Labrador, as well as the Inuit, Innu, Naskapi and Cree living in Quebec, all got together for a second time in Sept Isles to formalize a joint Caribou management committee that was struck at this emergency meeting back in January (as I discussed in this past article)

While no consensus was reached on a total moratorium at the first meeting, just the very idea of a cross-provincial conglomerate of Aboriginal groups meeting and agreeing to establish a joint management board is big news. It can be argued that past hunting bans imposed by the Newfoundland government on Aboriginal groups have been ineffective, and that they will likely continue to be unenforced.

And it’s not like the Caribou population is drastically falling or anything. Imagine the population of humans in Newfoundland; now imagine in 10 years or so, that population dropping to that of Labrador’s human population. And all the while the government furrowing their brows in a pitiful attempt to understand what to do, and what legal context they can possibly do it in.

Aboriginal people have the right to hunt and fish

But that doesn’t mean they don’t also have the responsibility to manage that right, typically by Aboriginal governments managing their access to the resources. This is what being a government is all about. And yes, this means with first priority, before non-Aboriginal hunters, especially outfitters and sport hunters. (This doesn’t mean if resources were properly managed one couldn’t get a license from an Aboriginal group rather than the province – but that’s for another column.)

Before you say, ‘How can we call it traditional because Aboriginal people use skidoos and GPS to hunt’: think. Newfoundlanders scream bloody murder over their traditional right to get moose (that oh, one hundred-year-old tradition) and cod, despite the use of aluminum boats and motors. No culture is static, nor should it be. Modernising a culture doesn’t mean you have less of a right to it. If that were true, everyone (except Quakers and Mennonites) should go back to their respective continents because they don’t use horses and buggies, and so on and are no longer the people who made the treaties we all enjoy today. Is your Easter turkey traditional? Or your wafer at church? Because it was factory farmed rather than hand raised? Foolishness.

There haven’t been any charges that have stuck to Aboriginal groups because Newfoundland’s laws recognise the bulk of the Labrador peninsula does not have any treaties (with the exception of Nunavik and Nunatsiavut). So effectively they’re illegitimately occupied by the province. At the very least, you can’t alienate the indigenous people from their right to hunt and fish with laws made outside of a treaty/legal context.

So why not a news story?

Taking those things into account, why the hell was this momentous summit not covered? Never before have we had such regional co-operation between the two provinces’ communities, let alone Aboriginal groups. Is it because of Newfoundland’s inability to enforce its laws within Labrador, let alone the cross border skirmishes it tries hard to ignore/avoid? The province needs Aboriginal groups to step up and help manage their own people.

Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table - Reunion. Photo submitted.
Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table – Reunion.

One reason was perhaps that this story got buried in the busy news cycle of this province. Such deeply important and motivating stories like ignoring rules means you can’t get on a plane, sex expos, and fer gorsh sakes don’t burn er down b’ys, a viral apple coring video, and someone’s lost parrot.

No offense to your moments of fame, people, but they pale pretty Casper-ly in comparison to the complete and utter extirpation of nearly a million animals from the province. It was barely even covered in Labrador – by The Aurora and OK Society. I don’t think my interest in the Caribou is just a bias here.

Is it because it’s Quebec?

Or is it spring now, patios are drying off and people are sick of hearing about those Aboriginals up on the mainland and the stupid caribou? Perhaps it’s part of a greater psyche that us in Labrador have long been aware of – out of sight, out of mind. Most Newfoundlanders have never been, nor will they ever go, to Labrador. The reverse is not true.

It certainly seems to be all of our Caribou only when those Innu of Quebec come sneaking across the border to steal them.

Since those “Quebec Innu” are so sinister, maybe “Newfoundland’s Innu” should go up there on the border with guns and stop them – because A) apparently there’s an ethnic difference between the two Innu; B) that border exists in Nitassinan; C) Newfoundland can’t seem to do it, and D) like anyone really cares unless big bad Quebec is involved somehow.

Let’s face it

Newfoundland doesn’t even monitor or manage the Caribou in any proper way. They do some aerial surveys, mostly of the three “distinct woodland Caribou” herds in Labrador (even the George River herd is woodland Caribou, which acts as a feeder to the other, smaller herds – part of a biological strategy for survival strategy of the species ).

No, Newfoundland gets its herd data from Quebec’s monitoring program (shhh!) and it doesn’t have enough officers in the entire province to properly enforce Newfoundland alone, let alone all of Labrador too. No offense to all the hard working wildlife officers – good job, by the way – but it’s simply impossible to enforce Labrador without the will, a massive amount of money, or a cheaper program.

Like working with those Aboriginal governments on the ground…

That’s right, guess who has an actual vested interest in the herd surviving? Guess who has people on the ground, on the land, and in the communities? And just guess who has a strong legal framework, and the traditional ecological knowledge of the herd and the land?

The latter point is particularly poignant considering written, Western science has very limited historical data about the herd, and about the climate and its effects on wildlife (very important when climate is probably one of the biggest causes of the rapid decline).

(Ok fine, I’ll touch on that one briefly – freeze/thaw cycles with a warmer climate [oops I said it] means it takes a lot more effort to dig down to the food – add in more human disruptions and Caribou expend more energy than they take in – thus they die).

Besides, these Aboriginal groups now have access to high level scientists/labs/universities/other governments, often within their own governments’ control.

I think it’s obvious what my opinion is. I think Quebec and Newfoundland need to take notice of this new regional partnership, and support the Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table. I know it’s scary when you can’t effectively govern a region, and when the locals start rising up and asserting their “sovereignty”. But they really are best positioned to enforce (and care about) the rule of law and order.

They’re also cheaper than trying to do it yourself.

Now mind you, this whole new era of inter-regional cooperation has also rekindled a spirit of unity within Labrador itself. After the conference some of the leaders came back invigorated by the spirit of working together, dropping the stupid intra-Labrador/Inter-Aboriginal/provincial fighting, and really talking about taking control where the government(s) have left a void.

This whole talk of unity from/between these Aboriginal leaders is also adding fuel to the Labrador “home rule” discussion. Especially after talking with Nunavik – an essentially public self governing territory of Quebec.

Maybe that’s why this summit didn’t get much air time.

It’s just too scary to have Labrador become more autonomous, in any way.

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