Simeon Tshakapesh, Innu band chief in Natuashish, says he will continue to hunt George River caribou despite a five-year ban announced by the provincial government on Monday.
He said that mining and exploration are more disruptive to the herd than aboriginal hunting.
"If they're so sincere about the George River herd in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially the Labrador coast, I think they should stop the ... mining and exploration," Tshakapesh said.
Despite the moratorium on the herd, Tshakapesh said he will continue to hunt unless government takes similar measures with explorative mining in the area.
"I wouldn't hunt if they say, 'Okay, we want to save the caribou herd, we're going to shut all the exploration, mining companies, and other projects — we're going to shut it down for the next five years,’" he said.
Caribou hunt important to culture
Prote Poker, grand chief of the Innu Nation, said that the ban is unjustified and it is a threat to their way of life.
"We’ve been talking to our elders, and they did not agree to a total ban on our people," Proker told the St. John's Telegram. "We always favour conservation, but a total ban is not justified."
Proker will be meeting with staff and elders on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the ban.
'If people want to hunt, they will hunt.' —Simeon Tshakapesh
According to Tshakapesh, banning the hunt will disrupt the culture of the Innu people in Labrador.
"If people want to hunt, they will hunt. I've got no authority to say, 'don't hunt, don't eat.' I have no authority to that," he said.
Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson said that the ban is about conservation, and anyone caught hunting the caribou will be charged.
"We leave it to our enforcement officers ... they know how to deal with this sort of a thing, and literally anyone that's taking caribou in Labrador now are doing it against the law," said Hedderson.
Aboriginal hunting rights not clear cut
If the Innu to continue hunting the George River caribou herd, a judge will have to decide what takes precedence: aboriginal rights or conservation.
The Supreme Court of Canada decided aboriginal people have hunting rights, but even those rights have certain limitations.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Felix Collins said that the law applies to everyone, and that includes aboriginal people.
"We have no choice in this situation but to enforce this ban," Collins said. "The herd is under tremendous pressure."
Sandra Gogal, a lawyer who specializes in aboriginal law, said that there is not a clear-cut line where conservation and rights are concerned.
"Aboriginal rights are not absolute, and they may be lawfully infringed if the infringement is aimed at conservation measures," Gogal said.
If the issue went to court, it would be the government making its case as much as the Innu.
"You know if it was challenged, then the Crown is going to have to justify whether or not there was a valid conservation objective."
Government has threatened to charge Innu hunters in the past, but in the rare cases it does, the charges do not often stick.
The provincial government announced a five-year hunting ban on Monday due to the drastic population drop of the herd.