Overhunting creating hardship for Kaska, says Ross River Dena Council

Members of the Ross River Dena Council say they nearly blockaded the North Canol road this fall, in an attempt to stop hunting pressure on moose and caribou. 'It's just hard to get food for ourselves for the winter,' says Dempsey Sterriah.

Hunters coming in from elsewhere refer to the North Canol area as 'the killing fields,' says chief

Gord Peter says even hunters from the N.W.T. come to hunt in the Yukon, near Mac Pass on the border. 'If they can afford to come hunting all the way down this way, they can definitely afford to buy beef.' (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

The Ross River Dena Council says it very nearly blockaded the North Canol Road this fall to stop overhunting in its traditional territory.

The Kaska say there's been a huge influx of hunters, from around the Yukon and many from the N.W.T., who have hunted for moose and caribou along the North Canol, up to the N.W.T. border.

They say the hunting pressure is hurting their community, and say it's one of the most pressing election issues in their region.

Gord Peter said huge numbers of hunters descended upon the North Canol this fall. 

"You see them, they come in with their caravans, four-wheelers, freezers in the back," he said.

"About 75 trucks came in.  A lot of our people never got a moose. We try to go hunt and we're always running into other people."

He says that hunting pressure means the Kaska Dena aren't getting the animals they rely on to feed their families.

"A lot of our members do live off the land. Getting that one moose, it's almost like having $20,000."

Dempsey Sterriah says the visiting hunters tear up the land with their four-wheelers and leave garbage behind. 'It's just hard to get food for ourselves for the coming winter.' (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

He points out that the Ross River Dena have "unsurrendered right and title" to their traditional territory.

"Because we're an unsettled First Nation, this land belongs to us," he said.

"We're thinking about shutting it down, closing it down, because we're getting way overhunted."

Also hunters from N.W.T.

Peter says even hunters from the N.W.T. come to hunt in the Yukon, near Mac Pass on the border. 

"They come down from Yellowknife, from Fort Smith. If they can afford to come hunting all the way down this way, they can definitely afford to buy beef," he said.

He said the Faro area was also traditionally "the breadbasket" used by the Kaska to hunt sheep, moose and caribou.

He said now that that area has been overhunted by hunters from other parts of the territory, the Ross River people don't go there anymore.

This fall, the Yukon government put a ban on moose hunting in the Faro area for the second year in a row. Peter said that has resulted in more hunters coming to Ross River instead.

Dempsey Sterriah is also alarmed at the influx of hunters.

"The [animals] are starting to get scarce up there and there's hardly any game up there anymore. It's just hard to get food for ourselves for the coming winter."  

Sterriah said the hunters also tear up the land with their four-wheelers and leave garbage behind. 

Kaska hunters left empty-handed

Chief Jack Caesar said it's a big problem and many members of the First Nation wanted to blockade the North Canol Road, which starts on the north side of the Pelly River.

Caesar said it's painful for the community to watch the hunters roll in.

Jack Caesar, chief of the Ross River Dena Council, said many members of the First Nation wanted to blockade the North Canol Road because of the increasing hunting pressure on the area's wildlife. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

"You have trailers and four-wheelers and Argos, teams of them going up in there, and calling some of the areas that they hunted, 'the killing fields' — and to me that's something that really hurts when it comes to animals that we subsist [on] and respect."

He echoes concerns that Kaska hunters are coming home empty-handed.

"Yes, especially this fall," he said.

Caesar is asking the new government to help Ross River manage the issue.

"They could come over to Ross and sit down across the table with us and we could look at these areas that have been really devastated over the years," he said.

"They're [the government] talking conservation? The answer is: come sit down with us. And we'll conserve. Because we know the land a lot better than anybody else — it's our land base. It's our land."

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.