One of the main topics of discussion during the Dene leadership meeting this week in Dettah, N.W.T., was caribou and who has right to hunt it.

Tensions have been high after several Yellowknives Dene hunters had caribou meat confiscated earlier this year for hunting without tags.

Since January 2010, hunting of caribou in the Bathurst herd's winter range has been banned, after its population dropped to 32,000 from 186,000 in 2003.

Starting in December 2010, the GNWT reinstated a limited hunt for First Nations. It issues 150 caribou tags to the Tlicho and 150 to the Yellowknives Dene annually.

But some Dene leaders say they're sick of having to deal with assigned tags, and want control over the hunt.

K'atlodeeche Chief Roy Fabian says he wants justice for the Dene people who have had their meat confiscated.

"The premier should go hunting and give all that meat back to the people ... because he's breaking the law."

Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger says it's not about power, it's about protecting what's left.

"When it comes to wildlife conservation, that issue trumps the right to harvest," he said. "There is no right for anybody to hunt the herd to the point where they can't survive."

Miltenberger says the restrictions will be lifted once the Bathurst caribou population recovers, and says meat confiscated by ENR is not wasted.

"The meat would be taken away and ... either before it gets to court or when it gets to court, then the JP or the judge would usually dictate how the meat is to be put to use, usually [to] elders or others in the community."