Nfld. & Labrador

Innu chief mulls legal action after caribou meat seized

"The game wardens came and stopped us."

Gregory Rich says wildlife officers don't respect Indigenous use of the animal

Grand Chief Gregory Rich was among a group of Innu who had a caribou seized by wildlife officials in Quebec, even though the Cree Nation of Chisasibi had given the caribou to them as a gift. (Bailey White/CBC)

The grand chief of the Innu Nation says it wasn't right for Quebec wildlife officers to seize caribou given as a gift between Indigenous governments in Quebec and Labrador — and he's considering legal action. 

"The one thing we don't understand is why is it illegal," says Gregory Rich.

He said while travelling back to Labrador from Chisasibi, Que., he was stopped on Tuesday by Quebec police and wildlife officers in Oujé-Bougoumou, a Cree community about 300 kilometres northwest of Saguenay.

"The game wardens came and stopped us," Rich told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"They told me that they have a search warrant on hand because … they told me I was carrying illegal meat from Quebec."

CBC first contacted wildlife authorities in Quebec for comment on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, an official said the department would be issuing a statement in the coming days.

Innu Nation given letter from Cree chief

Rich said he didn't deny having the caribou, but he told officers it was given to him as a gift on behalf of the Chisasibi Cree First Nation. He said he met with Chief Davey Bobbish, who gave him a letter supporting the Innu Nation in taking the caribou to Labrador.

"Our friend gave us some caribou to take with us for traditional and ceremonial purposes, and that's what we told the chief as well," Rich said.

"We were given some caribou from a friend of ours in Chisasibi and we would like your permission to take it out and take it to our community members in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish."

Rich says the harvested caribou was given to the Innu Nation of Labrador as a gift but wildlife officers did not accept that and seized it. (Submitted by Innu Nation )

But the wildlife officers didn't accept the letter, said Rich, who said officers told him it was illegal for them to hunt caribou in Cree territory or to be in possession of the caribou, and said the meat would be seized.

The game warden doesn't respect our ceremonial and spiritual purposes of the caribou.- Gregory Rich

The Innu Nation grand chief said he respects the law, but it's a common practice for all First Nations in Canada to share meat, and he's never had an experience like this with wildlife officers.

"It hurts us all to [know] that the game warden doesn't respect our ceremonial and spiritual purposes of the caribou," said Rich.

Considering legal action

He said he understands the Leaf River caribou herd are in decline, but added the Cree nation has permission to hunt those animals, and the rationale for taking the meat wasn't made clear to him.

"We called our lawyers and everything and they explained the process and they have search warrants, and we obeyed the search warrant and everything," Rich said.

He said the Innu Nation is talking to lawyers and is considering pursuing legal action over the seizure.

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