North

Cree reiterate call to end sport hunt of declining caribou herd

Tensions between the Cree Nation and the Quebec government are mounting as the government continues to permit sport hunting of a rapidly declining caribou herd in Northern Quebec.

Visiting hunters allowed to harvest thousands of animals on Cree and Inuit territory

New aerial survey information presented at this week's meeting of the Cree Nation Government shows the population of the Leaf River caribou herd in Northern Quebec has dropped to less than half what it was five years ago. (Luc Gervais)

Tensions between the Cree Nation and the Quebec government are mounting as the government continues to permit sport hunting of a rapidly declining caribou herd.

The population of the Leaf River herd in Northern Quebec has dropped to less than half what it was five years ago, according to aerial survey information presented at this week's meeting of the Cree Nation Government. It has pushed for years to cancel sport hunting of the herd.

This year, visiting sport hunters are allowed to harvest up to 2,732 animals in Inuit and Cree territory. 

The hunt is profitable business for outfitters in the region. The Quebec government says it wants to hold off one more year before canceling it.

'It's like playing with something sacred'

"It was never the intent of the Cree to open a sports hunt with others, because it is like playing with something sacred to us," said Chisasibi Chief Davey Bobbish during this week's meeting of Cree chiefs. 

"What I hear from my people is that they want to completely stop the non-Indigenous sports hunt."

The caribou herd, currently migrating through the James Bay region, numbered 199,000 animals in 2016, down from 430,000 in 2011 according to new data from Quebec's wildlife ministry. The ministry cites habitat loss, hunting, and predators such as wolves and black bears as possible causes of the "worrying" decline. 

Davey Bobbish, chief of Chisasibi, Que.: "What I hear from my people is that they want to completely stop the non-Indigenous sports hunt." (Cree Nation of Chisasibi)

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement specifies that when a population is vulnerable, the sports hunt must be reduced before limits are placed on the Indigenous subsistence hunt.

Inuit, Cree and Naskapi hunters' rights are protected by the JBNQA, but Innu hunters from regions where caribou are less plentiful are expected to follow the same rules as non-Indigenous sport hunters visiting the traditional lands of the James Bay Cree, known as Eeyou Istchee. The Innu, like the sport hunters must obtain permits and register the number of animals they take.

Photos of carcasses spark outrage

Photos circulating recently on social media of dozens of caribou carcasses strewn on the ground have sparked outrage among hunters and others concerned these hunting practices may be contributing to the herd's decline.

A total of 27 wildlife protection agents, including four who are Cree, patrol the 340,500 square kilometre Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory, which includes the nine Cree communities. Hunters charged with illegal hunting face fines ranging from $250 to more than $5000 for a first offence.

"We as Cree have to be respectful of our hunting ways, and be able to see the need to manage the herd so that we won't be putting a strain on them for the future," said Willie K. Gunner, president of the Cree Trappers' Association. 

The aerial census took place between July 28 and August 2nd, 2016. The ministry estimates the results to be accurate within a margin of 8 per cent.

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