Nfld. & Labrador

'We're not going to sit idle': Caribou preservation group forges ahead without Innu Nation

It was heralded as a groundbreaking agreement and a model for Indigenous leadership, but now the Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table (UPCART) finds its work imperilled by dispute from within.

UPCART wanted limited hunt in Labrador, with 90 caribou to be shared among Indigenous groups

Members of UPCART signed an agreement on caribou preservation in October 2017 but Labrador Innu are not happy with a recent recommendation. (Susan Bell/CBC)

It was heralded as a groundbreaking agreement and a model for Indigenous leadership, but now the Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table (UPCART) finds its work imperilled by dispute from within.

UPCART co-chair Adamie Delisle Alaku says Innu Nation's decision to leave the group is "very unfortunate and shows a lack of respect."

Founded in 2013, UPCART was conceived as a coalition of Indigenous groups in Labrador and Quebec who hunt the threatened George River and Leaf River caribou herds.

In October 2017, the group released a strategy to preserve the two herds by monitoring well-established population cycles and adjusting hunting levels accordingly.

1 per cent hunt

The George River herd, with a population of less than 9,000, is at a low-point in the cycle, and so — under the proposal — hunting would be restricted to less than one per cent.

Delisle Alaku said the groups from Quebec agreed to give the entire quota to Labrador, because Labradorians have no access to the Leaf River herd.

The George River caribou herd has about 9,000 animals left. The all-time high was around 800,000. (CBC)

Pending approval by the Newfoundland and Labrador government, which imposed a caribou hunting ban in 2013, UPCART members considered a harvest of 35 animals for Innu Nation, 35 for Nunatsiavut, another 20 for NunatuKavut Community Council.

That, Delisle Alaku said, was a point of contention for Innu Nation, which represents Labrador Innu from Sheshatshiu and Natuashish.

"This was very difficult for Innu Nation to accept and they did not want to take that route," he said. "So they were not on board."

'We cannot stop'

On Tuesday, Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich told CBC a harvest of that size is "not acceptable," and that Innu hunters would continue to harvest about 100 animals a year, despite a provincial hunting ban.

Rich said Innu Nation would keep working on its own caribou management strategy.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich says a one per cent hunt was "not acceptable" to the elders of Natuashish and Sheshatshiu. (Kate Adach/CBC )

"We need to work together as Aboriginal groups," said Delisle Alaku, who's holding out hope Innu Nation will return to the round table.

But, he added, the group will forge ahead with or without Innu Nation.   

"We cannot be derailed, we cannot stop what we have established," he said.

"We're not going to sit idle while our herds are crashing drastically."

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