Return of Vancouver Island elk a boon for Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation

John Henderson, a wildlife officer and vice chairman for the Kwaikutl District Council says he wants the return of the elk to be a lesson to youth about the value of responsible environmental stewardship.

At one time, the First Nation could only take six elk each year — now it's 101

A Roosevelt elk seen on Vancouver Island. The Kwakwak'awakw First Nation is seeing major growth in the numbers of elk in the herd near their territory. (James Abbott/Flickr)

For decades, the population of Roosevelt elk in the forests near Campbell River, B.C., has struggled to remain viable, with only a few animals made available for local First Nations to hunt.

But now, the herds are growing, which is providing a lot of meat to the Kwakwak'awakw First Nation.

"The herds are substantially healthy. I believe that they are going to grow," John Henderson, a wildlife officer and vice chairman for the Kwakiutl District Council told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

At one point, Henderson says, the Kwakwak'awakw First Nation could only hunt six animals each year. This year, that number has gone up to 101.

Henderson says that increase also means more responsibility for the First Nation — not only to hunt the elk responsibly, but to make sure future generations learn values of responsible stewardship.

John Henderson, a wildlife officer and vicec hairman for the Kwakiutl District Council, says the number of elk his First Nation can hunt has gone up from six to 101. (Keith Vass/CBC)
"We've got a lot of responsibility to follow in respect to our ancestors. They've preserved the wildlife to the point we're at today … our young people need to take that responsibility seriously to move on and move into the future," he said.

"We survive by the resources of the sea and the wildlife atmosphere, which is out there. Not just elk, but all wildlife."

Henderson says the conservation success is due to a partnership between First Nations, the provincial government, the Wildlife Stewardship Council and even guide outfitters. He says these groups came together after there was a realization of their shared responsibility for the wildlife.

Going forward, Henderson says he's hopeful that sense of shared responsibility for the herd will keep the numbers at a healthy level.

With files from All Points West

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Return of Roosevelt elk on north Vancouver Island a blessing for First Nation