Harsh words — and different strategies — divide Innu Nation, Nunatsiavut government on caribou plan

How to maintain numbers of the George River caribou herd is sparking a war of words.

The Nunatsiavut government says there is a 'blatant betrayal and a lack of respect'

The most recent estimates for the George River herd show fewer than 9,000 animals. In the early 1990s there was an estimated 800,000. (Submitted by Luc Gervais)

The Nunatsiavut government is blasting the Innu Nation for its continued hunt of the George River caribou herd and for pulling out of what it calls a "historic agreement."

"Recent decisions by the Innu Nation could very well spell the end for the George River caribou herd, and strain relations with the Nunatsiavut government for many years to come," says Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe in a media release.

The George River herd has seen a dramatic decline in numbers since the early 1990s when there was an estimated 800,000 animals. Recently, the total has been pegged at just under 9,000. A ban on hunting the herd was put in place in 2013.

"The Innu have decided to harvest caribou before any decision was made to allow for a limited hunt," Lampe said.

"This shows a blatant betrayal and a lack of respect to other Indigenous peoples who have traditionally relied on the George River caribou for sustenance — and it sends a strong message that the Innu could care less whether or not the herd survives."

Not acceptable

Grand Chief of the Innu Nation Gregory Rich said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the comments made by the Nunatsiavut government.

He defended the decision by the Innu Nation to walk away from the Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table (UPCART), a partnership that involves six other indigenous groups from Quebec and Labrador including Nunatsiavut.

Rich said UPCART was focused on the Leaf River caribou herd, which is found in Northern Quebec and has numbers closer to 200 thousand.

"The Innu Nation wanted to focus on George River which is still declining," he told CBC News. 

"I think it's important that the aboriginal groups in Labrador come together and develop a management plan for George River."

Nunatsiavut president Johannes Lampe is asking the N.L. government to allow for a one percent harvest of the George River herd. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The Nunatsiavut government recently asked the provincial government not to designate the George River herd as endangered and to allow for a one percent harvest, which amounts to just under 90 animals.

We've said in the past 'protect the land, protect the animals' [and]  Innu  Nation was the only voice to share that concern to others.- Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich

"We were told by our elders and our community members that one percent was not acceptable," Rich said.

"There have been ceremonies that Innu have been practicing for thousands and thousands of years and that one percent didn't cover the ceremonies that the Innu people practice."

The Innu Nation developed its own management plan for caribou in 2013, which allowed for 300 animals to be harvested. Rich said that number has been lowered to 100 animals and they are careful to tell hunters not to hunt pregnant females in the herd.

Grand Chief of the Innu Nation Gregory Rich says the Innu management plan allows for 100 caribou to be harvested for ceremonial purposes. (CBC)

"We've said in the past 'protect the land, protect the animals' [and] Innu Nation was the only voice to share that concern to others," Rich said.

"Nobody stood beside us when we made that statement."

About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

With files from Labrador Morning