The Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Natural Resources is under fire from the Innu Nation after it disposed of dozens of caribou carcasses at a dump in Labrador.
Prote Poker, the grand chief of the Innu Nation, said seeing dozens of caribou carcasses being thrown out this way was a sad sight.
"The caribou is scarce. We have seen a decline in caribou, and to dispose — to hear of disposing caribou like this — it hurts me inside. It's sad," he said.
Between 2008 and 2011, conservation officials confiscated 55 animals following allegations of illegal hunting and harvesting of endangered Woodland caribou in southern and central Labrador.
The animals were seized near Birchy Lake, Joir River, Cache River and Lynx's Lake, which are all areas where caribou hunting is prohibited under the Wildlife and Endangered Species acts.
The confiscated caribou were stored as evidence in freezers in Happy Valley-Goose Bay while officials carried out their investigations.
Many of the caribou were shot by Quebec Innu. The province couldn't make charges stick, so the carcasses were no longer needed as evidence. They were loaded into trucks and sent to the landfill in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Aug. 16.
"It's a sin to dump it at the dump like that, the full carcasses," Poker said. "It hurts our culture to see this, and to know it has happened."
The department said in a statement that it could not have turned over the dead animals to the Innu.
"Wildlife cannot be given to charitable organizations or residents for public consumption due to health issues and liabilities," the statement said.
Poker agreed that after years in a freezer, the meat may no longer be good to eat. However, he added, other parts of the animals could have been used.
"The most sacred parts of the caribou is the caribou hides and the antlers, and I guess those are disposed as well. And the caribou bones are very sacred to the Innu people," he said.
While it's too late to save the caribou carcasses in this case, Poker said he hopes the province will consult with the Innu in the future before heading to the dump.