Hunter angry, says resource officers impeded caribou harvest

A hunter from Fort Resolution, N.W.T., is angered by what he claims is the harassment of caribou hunters by officers from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources says officers were enforcing caribou management zone

Tom Unka, of Fort Resolution, said a helicopter landed beside him while he was hunting for caribou recently, and an officer got out to ask whether he had any meat. (Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

A hunter from Fort Resolution, N.W.T., is angered by what he claims is the harassment of caribou hunters by renewable resource officers from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Tom Unka said he was hunting in late March near the MacKay Lake and Kennady Lake area — where Gahcho Kue diamond mine is located — when he saw officers trying to move caribou herds away from hunters with helicopters.

At one point, Unka said, a helicopter landed right beside him and an officer got out to ask whether Unka had any meat on him.

At another point, Unka said he was on his way back home from the trip with a group of other hunters when another officer stopped them and asked them to unload the caribou they'd caught.

Officers enforcing regulations, says department

Meagan Wohlberg, a department spokeswoman, said in an email that the officers were using helicopters around the mobile management zone for Bathurst caribou so they could conduct harvesting inspections.

The mobile no-hunting zone is an area that moves with the roaming Bathurst herd to keep them protected. No one is allowed to hunt within the zone, although Indigenous peoples may hunt outside the zone, Wohlberg said.

Wohlberg said the department's work with the helicopters was "strictly to ensure that hunters are complying with mobile zone regulations" and was "not intended to direct caribou into or outside of the zone."

She said officers from the department are acting under their authority in the territory's Wildlife Act when they inspect harvesters or harvested meat.

Hunters frustrated

Unka said he and other hunters are frustrated with the government's actions

"We are treaty people," he said. "We have a treaty right, and in that treaty it says we can hunt."

According to the territory's Wildlife Act, a person with an Aboriginal or treaty right to harvest wildlife in the territory isn't required to hold a license or permit to hunt, but is required to show identification that demonstrates those rights if an officer asks for proof.

Unka said he hasn't caught any caribou this year, and he says government officers are partly to blame. 

"They're taking food away from my grandchildren," he said. "I've been out there three times and every time . . . there was a herd that was outside the [mobile zone] line, they were coming in with helicopters, moving [the caribou] away, away from the hunters, right in front of them."

Unka said Indigenous hunters should be allowed to hunt caribou freely.

"It's wrong what they're doing," he said.

With files from Lawrence Nayally