Deal allows controlled Dene caribou hunt

The Yellowknives Dene and the N.W.T government have reached a deal to keep the band in caribou meat.

The Yellowknives Dene and the N.W.T government have reached a deal to keep the band supplied with caribou meat.

Under an agreement made public Monday, a government-approved hunt allowed hunters from the Yellowknives Dene to take 50 Bathurst caribou in the no-hunting zone over the weekend. In exchange, Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) officials took samples from the harvested animals and will test them to see if they can determine why caribou numbers are declining.

The news comes after hearings into how to manage the Bathurst caribou herd ended suddenly last week when the Tlicho aboriginal government asked for more time to resolve its disagreements with the territorial government.

Territorial government biologists say the herd, which winters in Tlicho territory, has been sharply declining in recent years, from about 128,000 caribou in 2006 to 31,900 animals last year.

Critics, including hunting outfitters and aboriginal officials have not only questioned those numbers, but have criticized the N.W.T. government for primarily blaming hunters for the drop in caribou numbers.

Aboriginal communities and the N.W.T. government have been at odds over proposed long-term hunting restrictions for the Bathurst caribou herd and an interim hunting ban outraged Dene leaders and hunters who have long relied on caribou.

But the Yellowknives Dene managed to come to an agreement with the N.W.T. government and conducted a controlled hunt last weekend. Speaking shortly after the hunt, Chief Ted Tsetta of N'dilo, N.W.T said Environment and Natural Resources officials should never have tried to ban it in the first place.

"They know for a fact that is was wrong and they are finally admitting it. At the end of the day, the problem that has happened was consultation," said Chief Tsetta. "If you are going to do anything you got to consult the people at their home and backdoor. So I think that's where the communication broke down."

Meanwhile, ENR sent out staff to monitor the weekend hunt and collect samples from the dead caribou.

"Some of the key things we are interested in are health and condition," said Brett Elkin, a wildlife disease specialist with ENT. "So body condition, reproductive status."