Yukon First Nation causes stir with plan to issue their own hunting permits

The Ross River Dena Council says outside hunters need permits from the First Nation on its traditional territory, but without clarity on the rules or how they will be enforced, the suggestion is causing confusion among outfitters and hunters.

Ross River Dena Council says outside hunters need permits from the First Nation on its traditional territory

Hunting on the North Canol Road is increasingly a worry to elders says Ross River Dena Council chief Jack Caesar. (Robert Austin)

The Ross River Dena Council has taken a full page advertisement in a Whitehorse newspaper warning non-Kaska hunters they'll need a permit from the First Nation before hunting on its traditional territory this year.

Jack Caesar, the First Nation's chief, said he doesn't know how the permit requirement will be enforced. But he said the Dena Council wanted to create awareness with the ads in the paper, and it will go from there.

The Council has been involved in court disputes with the Yukon government over how much say it has over hunting levels in its traditional territory. In the past two years, it's also warned that members fed up with over-hunting might set up road blockades to prevent outside hunters from accessing popular hunting areas.

The elders are increasingly worried about the number of moose and caribou, said Caesar.

"With the animals really taking a place where they're continuously year after year after year being depleted on our land base and I think it's pretty serious," he said.

"And at the end of the day, what are we going to have for the next generation?"

The advertisement, in the local newspaper Yukon News, is raising lots of questions within the hunting community. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Part of the South Canol Road and all of the North Canol Road within Yukon are on the Dena Council's traditional lands. Both roads are also popular destinations for hunters from Whitehorse and other parts of the territory.

The advertisement certainly has created awareness among members of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said Gord Zealand, the association's executive director.

Its members typically get hunting licences from the territorial government.

"Well, the reaction I'm getting is: 'okay Gord, what is going on?'" said Zealand.

Zealand said all hunters, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, fall under the management of the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management board.

Caesar says the advertisement is meant to increase awareness about hunting in the Ross River Dena Council's traditional territory. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

"Whatever actions you take in one area will affect actions in another area, whether you're shifting people, locations, whatever," said Zealand.

"Bottom line is, if there's an issue over numbers or if there's a concern over the resource, we're front and centre in terms of full support ensuring that management," he said.

 "But we want it to be science-based, not based on my wishes, or your wishes, or whatever, in terms of what our own personal thoughts might be," said Zealand.

Zealand said the association has not been successful in its efforts to discuss the matter with the Dena Council. He said the Yukon government needs to make a statement regarding the First Nation's advertisement.

The North Canol Road is a popular hunting destination. (CBC)

Likewise, the Yukon Outfitters Association is also trying to contact the Council, said its executive director, Shawn Wasel.
Wasel said six hunting outfitters operate in the Ross River Dena Council's traditional territory.

He can't say if moose and caribou are being over-hunted in the area, but said that's something that needs clarification.

In an emailed statement, the Yukon government says it needs to discuss the situation with the Ross River Dena Council.

The statement says "in regards to hunting laws for this season ... we hope to provide more clarity to hunters soon, as we know this is an issue of interest to many."

With files from Meagan Deuling and Dave Croft