Nunavut's Inuit organization is taking the federal government to court over a recently imposed ban on the international export of narwhal tusks from many of the territory's communities.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which represents Inuit land-claim beneficiaries in the territory, said Thursday that it has filed an application with the Federal Court challenging the decision by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to restrict the export of narwhal tusks and related products from 17 Nunavut communities, including the territorial capital of Iqaluit.
The department had notified the group about the ban in December. Nunavut Tunngavik officials argue that Inuit, who have harvested narwhal for generations, were not consulted prior to the ban being imposed.
DFO officials have said they introduced the trade restrictions because narwhal in some areas are being overhunted.
Inuit hunt the Arctic whale for its skin and blubber, a food source. To earn extra income, whalers also hunt male narwhal for their heavy spiralling tusks that extend more than two metres from the jaw.
The tusks are valued in their own right and as raw material for Inuit carvers. A tusk in good condition can fetch a lucky hunter as much as $450 per metre. The ban affects both carvings and raw tusks.
The department has said if Canada does not restrict the export of those tusks, then the international community may ban exports altogether under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
But Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie said the export ban is based on "questionable data," adding that the department has said narwhal harvest numbers are not threatening the species.
In a release, Towtongie said DFO has already refused to reverse its decision, so Nunavut Tunngavik "had no choice but to file the application in order to preserve and protect Inuit rights."
Whalers in the 17 communities affected by the ban are still allowed to sell their tusks within Canada, but they cannot obtain export permits.
DFO has said the trade restrictions will stay in place until the hunting of narwhal decreases, or until new surveys indicate whale populations are growing.