Quebec Innu hunters who killed caribou in the Labrador wilderness over the last week insist their actions have not jeopardized a herd that government officials and conservationists say is at risk of extinction.
A group of 53 Quebec Innu hunters crossed the Labrador border last week and killed about 40 caribou that biologists and the Newfoundland and Labrador government said belong to the Joir River herd. Officials said the herd contained only 100 animals, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
But Christiane Lalo, chief of the Pakuashipi Innu band, disputes that the animals are endangered. Indeed, Innu elders claim the herd's numbers are 20 times higher than what government officials say.
"We didn't kill all of them. In this country, through Labrador, there's 2,000 caribou.… Yesterday, I heard on the news that they say [we will] kill all caribou, but that's not true," Lalo told CBC News on Tuesday, at a camp near where some of the caribou had been killed.
Lalo said the Quebec Innu have determined the number of animals through drums and dreams. She said the hunt is part of a larger dream, and the continuation of her people's tradition.
But the Newfoundland and Labrador government insists that the hunt is illegal.
Hollis Yetman, a retired conservation officer, said the hunters are putting the Joir River caribou at great risk.
"The danger is if you kill the numbers that are here, the possibility that other caribou are going to move into this habitat or area … is very slim," Yetman said.
Natalie Kalata, a CBC News reporter who flew to the Quebec hunters' camp on Tuesday, said that during the three hours she was in the air, she did not see a single living caribou in the area.