Caribou becoming a commercial commodity is a challenge to traditional Inuit cultural values and must be monitored closely, says Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie.
“All of you have seen advertisements on social media where hunters are selling caribou meat and this isn’t being overseen at all,” she said in the legislative assembly on May 31, noting the rapid decline of some Nunavut caribou herds. “It seems all caribou herds are being mismanaged by Inuit because our culture seemed to do a 180-degree turnaround where hunters started selling the harvested meat. This is the biggest change in the Inuit culture that is having an impact and that we must carefully take note of, and to ensure that it is carefully managed and not to harvest wantonly, as our ancestors only harvested what they needed and didn’t sell the catch in the past.”
Towtongie said she’s heard that land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) will be meeting about this issue and asked Environment Minister and Premier Joe Savikataaq what role he will play.
Savikataaq said he didn’t want to speak on behalf of NTI but he understands they will be holding a territory-wide caribou summit later in the year.
Towtongie, a former president of NTI, said, “I believe we have to direct this work as the government. The government has legislative rights, as you are aware, under the Wildlife Act where anyone abandoning meat can be fined or incarcerated as the severity depends on the wasted meat. However, we would prefer that people not be fined or charged, especially as caribou is becoming a commercial commodity. Although we may have rights, it will be useless when our caribou herds vanish, where Inuit will have rights that are useless.”
Savikataaq said he mentioned at a recent NTI meeting that “communities are becoming more concerned about the marketing of caribou meats. They stated that the local (hunters and trappers organizations) have the authority to manage the harvests of their membership and that they should be the ones providing the management, and to direct members not to sell their harvests. The HTOs have that authority to enforce harvesting amongst their membership.
“We as the government, NTI, and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board should be
debating the caribou management controls as commercial sales are becoming a concern
to some residents.”