Aboriginal hunters would be exempt from N.W.T.'s planned ban on hunting with drones

Hunters have said the use of drones is an 'unfair advantage to the hunter' and 'kind of like cheating.'

The government has currently proposed a ban with exceptions for Aboriginal treaty rights holders

A drone helicopter on display at an event in Las Vegas. The N.W.T. government has proposed a hunting ban on drones with an exception for Aboriginal treaty rights holders, as part of changes to the Wildlife Act. (The Associated Press/John Locher)

Officials with the N.W.T.'s Environment Department say northerners want more restrictions on using drones to assist hunters.

The territorial government is seeking feedback on proposed amendments to the territory's Wildlife Act, which would ban drone use while hunting, with exceptions for hunters with Aboriginal treaty rights.

But Rob Gau, the department's manager of biodiversity, told CBC News that many people have told him they don't think that goes far enough. 

"We're hearing it should be a restriction in place for all classes of harvesters," Gau said. He's been to open houses on the planned regulations in Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and several other communities.

Hunters have said the use of drones is an "unfair advantage to the hunter" and "kind of like cheating."

Who's on board?

So far the K'atl'odeeche First Nation and Northwest Territory Métis Nation formally agreed to a ban that could include their rights holders, according to an email from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

CBC News called officials in several First Nations to ask for their stance on hypothetical drone regulations that would put limits on their constituents' hunting rights.

Gwich'in Tribal Council board member Grace Blake and Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie both said their jurisdictions hadn't yet discussed drone regulations or come to an official opinion.

Ka'a'gee Tu First Nation Chief Lloyd Chicot in Kakisa said he would be happy to collaborate with the territorial government to restrict all hunters, including those with treaty rights, from using drones.

Chicot says that's because his community is surrounded by larger First Nations and Métis groups that often head to the Kakisa area to hunt, especially since limits were imposed on hunting caribou.

He said his 45-person community, along with local wildlife, deal with the consequences.

"We are sort of stuck in the middle," he said. "These decisions are supposedly made on behalf of us but also have an impact — not just on our way of life — but also on the species we have harvested for a long time."  

Lloyd Chicot says he'd support a blanket ban on hunting with drones that would include Aboriginal hunters. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

How would it work?

The department says there are already some situations where there are self-imposed hunting restrictions on rights holders: the Inuvialuit Final Agreement allows its hunter and trappers committees to make bylaws about hunting and fishing rights that the territory can enforce.

Another example is restrictions on hunting Bathurst caribou in the Mobile Management Zone. Those restrictions have had mixed reviews from Indigenous communities in the North.

Gau said the Department of Environment would take the views of First Nations leaders "into consideration," but in a critical situation the minister could override those views and impose a ban.

When asked for clarity on Gau's statement about how the minister would be able to ignore constitutionally protected treaty rights without a voluntary agreement with First Nations, a spokesperson wrote: "operationalization details of such a restriction remains a topic of future discussion with our co-management partners after our public feedback period."

Hunters in the Northwest Territories appear to generally support the territorial government's plan to ban using drones to hunt, calling it an unfair advantage. (Petter Jacobsen)

What else is happening?

While Gau says that's the strongest feedback he gets, he says not everyone agrees that there should be a blanket ban on drones for all classes of hunters.

"It's not 100 per cent," he said. "We've [also] heard we should still be respectful of people with rights being able to hunt with any means."

Others have told Gau that government shouldn't put a blanket ban on all drone possession in the field, because drones can also be used for safety purposes, not just to scout game.

Feedback on the array of proposed regulations, which also include a proactive "pest" designation for wild boar, will be taken until June 30.

Gau hopes the final regulations will be in place by April 2019.