The Nunavut government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. are at odds over the number of caribou to set as the “basic needs level” for Inuit hunting from the troubled Southampton caribou herd.

The government wants to set the number at 1,906; NTI wants 4,325.

James Eetoolook, vice-president of NTI, says the government’s stance is about politics and not the environment. 

“I want to put this in very stark and blunt terms: Inuit harvesters of Coral Harbour, Repulse Bay, Chesterfield Inlet and Rankin Inlet would stand to lose guaranteed access to more than 2,400 caribou annually. The government is trying to limit the Inuit right that was negotiated and is protected by the [Nunavut land claims agreement],” said Eetoolook

"Inuit do not have to seek permission from the government to harvest caribou.”

hi-james-eetoolook-nti

Nunavut Tunngavik vice-president James Eetoolook. 'Inuit do not have to seek permission from the government to harvest caribou.'

The dispute comes two years after the Nunavut government set an interim quota of 1,000 animals after government studies showed a drastic decline in the Southampton herd, from 30,000 animals in 1997 to fewer than 8,000 in 2011.

It was the first caribou quota ever imposed for Inuit in Nunavut. It was set at the request of the Aiviit Hunters and Trappers Organization in Coral Harbour. 

Last summer, the interim quota was extended for another year. In December, the government proposed cutting that quota further to 800 animals.

Next month, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board will hold public meetings before setting a total allowable harvest for the animals.

Under the land claim, that process requires government to also set a “basic needs level” for Inuit.

The number is supposed to consider the number of animals required by Inuit for subsistence.

If the quota for caribou is higher than that number, Inuit will get first access to the animals before any commercial harvest is considered. 

Unlike the total allowable harvest numbers, there is no mechanism in place for changing the basic needs level once it is set.  

Etoolook says NTI will consider legal action if the board accepts the government’s recommendation.

“Inuit have been around for tens of thousands of years and so have caribou and I think Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit [traditional knowledge and practices] should be taken very heavily by the GN," Eetoolook told the CBC. 

“It means that Inuit will take less caribou to supplement their income, support their families and for food for Inuit in Nunavut. It's too low."

Survey results released last May suggested the caribou population on Baffin Island has largely disappeared, declining by 95 per cent over the last two decades.

Caribou have been wiped out on Southampton Island before — in the 1950s. Animals were later moved from nearby Coats Island to re-populate Southampton.  

Public hearings into the total allowable harvest and basic needs level for Southampton caribou were set to take place at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit June 3 and 4. 

On May 28, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board announced it would postpone the hearings until the fall of 2014, in order to obtain more evidence, primarily from the GN and Nunavut Tunngavik.