The James Bay Cree government says more needs to be done to protect the Leaf River caribou herd, and it's calling on local Cree, Naskapi and Inuit guides to stop bringing in Indigenous hunters from other regions to harvest.
It's a practice that has been on the rise in recent years and is clearly a concern to the Grand Council of the Crees, which recently passed a resolution condemning it.
"We are urging that Cree hunters no longer collaborate [with] other Indigenous hunters by inviting them to the Cree territory," said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees.
Census numbers from a head count in the summer of 2016 show the Leaf River herd was down to 181,000 animals, a drastic drop from the 430,000 animals recorded in 2011. The numbers of the George River herd are also down to fewer than 9,000 animals.
"Our hunters and their families rely on the resources of the land," said Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum, in a news release about the resolution, which calls on hunters who do not fall under the benefits of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to get permits from the province of Quebec to hunt.
"Full collaboration in respecting management plans for the benefit of the species will be expected from our neighbours during this critical time," said Bosum.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement protects the hunting rights of the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi beneficiaries. Innu, who also depend on the caribou, have been dealing with a hunting ban on the George River caribou, which has been in place in Labrador since 2013.
Other herds of woodland caribou in Labrador are on the endangered species list and are therefore also illegal to hunt.
Cancel the sport hunt, says Grand Council
"What the [Leaf River] population can sustain as a harvest cannot even meet the guaranteed levels of harvest for the Cree, the Naskapi and the Inuit," said Nadia Saganash, wildlife administrator for the Grand Council of the Crees.
"We are sensitive that some of these [other] Aboriginal nations rely heavily on caribou. We just need to do things right and establish some kind of process and agreement."
Saganash says the Cree are working closely with the Naskapi and Inuit to ensure the conservation message gets through.
After several years of pressure, the Quebec government agreed to close the sport hunt in 2018 and cut the number of permits for this season in half.
Namagoose, with the Grand Council of the Crees, says that is not enough.
He says the resolution signed by the Grand Council also calls for the sport hunt for this year to be cancelled. He also says Quebec's inaction on this file has put the guaranteed hunt in the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) at risk — something he says is a legal matter.
"Quebec did not manage the caribou herd to ensure the guaranteed level of harvest is sustained," said Namagoose, who adds they are considering what to do next. "A breach of the [JBNQA] is a breach."