Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut May 20, 2014 - 3:02 pm

Inuit org threatens Nunavut government with lawsuit over Southampton caribou

GN says they respect the NLCA and that NTI's position is "ridiculous"

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. alleges that the Government of Nunavut is violating the Nunavut land claims agreement by proposing a basic needs level number for the Southampton Island caribou herd that NTI says is too low. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS IMAGE)
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. alleges that the Government of Nunavut is violating the Nunavut land claims agreement by proposing a basic needs level number for the Southampton Island caribou herd that NTI says is too low. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS IMAGE)

(Updated 3:30 p.m., May 20)

As the Southampton Island caribou herd continues to crash and wildlife managers grapple with how to limit its harvest, the issue is now threatening to degenerate into a grudge match between lawyers.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., on May 20, accused the Government of Nunavut of breaching the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement by proposing a “basic needs level” for the herd that is lower than NTI’s.

“In the meantime, NTI is considering all options, including pursuing legal action, if the GN does not reconsider their position on this fundamental Inuit right in the NLCA,” NTI said in a press release issued May 20.

Right now, the GN proposes the basic needs level for the Southampton herd be set at 1,906 animals per year.

NTI proposes 4,325. And they allege the GN’s lowball number could violate Inuit hunting rights.

“This is a step back in time. These are our rights, they are protected by the NLCA, and the GN’s proposal takes control over Inuit harvesting away from Inuit and places it back in the hands of the government. Inuit do not have to seek permission from the government to harvest caribou,” NTI vice president James Eetoolook said in a press release.

The GN however, rejects NTI’s allegations, and calls them “ridiculous.”

“NTI’s characterization of this issue as the Government of Nunavut not supporting or respecting Inuit rights is ridiculous. The Government of Nunavut is fully supportive of all the rights of Inuit,” the territorial Department of Environment said in an emailed statement May 20.

The GN statement said the issue is over how to interpret the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and that NTI is trying to use the issue “as leverage to force their interpretation of a section in the NLCA.”

“The NLCA was negotiated and agreed to by Inuit and Canada, and the Government of Nunavut has the responsibility to implement what was negotiated.  The GN respects the NLCA and we are following the processes outlined in it,” the GN statement said.

“Basic needs level” is a special number that the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board sets according to complex criteria set out in Article 5 of the land claims agreement.

If the total allowable harvest for a species is equal to or less than the basic needs level, Inuit have the right to harvest all of it.

The NWMB is supposed to set the basic needs level for a species after it first decides on a total allowable harvest number, or TAH.

At meetings of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board this past March, GN officials requested the caribou TAH for Southampton Island be reduced from 1,000 annually to 800.

That’s a reduction from a TAH that was imposed in 2012.

That’s because surveys show the caribou population on the island is crashing.

In 1997, the size of the Southampton herd was estimated at 30,381 animals. But in 2007, that fell to 20,582.

And by 2013, surveyors estimated only 7,287 animals were left in the herd.

They attribute the crash to a disease called brucellosis, low pregnancy rates among females, and the over-harvest of breeding and pregnant females.

And they say the buying and selling of caribou meat on social media sites like Facebook might also be a factor.

“There is also evidence of customers offering higher payment for fat caribou, which during the winter and spring seasons, are predominantly pregnant females,” the GN submission said.

In a letter to the NWMB, Drikus Gissing, the GN’s director of wildlife, said this adds up to “clear and uncontroverted evidence of a serious conservation problem” that requires immediate action.

He also pointed to information the GN received from Coral Harbour’s hamlet council: 17,000 pounds of caribou meat had been shipped from Coral Harbour to Baffin region communities in just two months, in early 2014.

In their March 2014 submission, which asked for the reduced quota, the GN also proposed a basic needs level number of 1,906.

To get that figure, the GN used data from two sources: an initial harvest study done between 1997 and 2001, and harvesting information from the period between 2009 and 2011.

They excluded numbers from a commercial harvest, which ended in 2007, for caribou meat sold outside Nunavut.

In their submission, the GN said their method of calculating the Inuit basic needs level for caribou on Southampton Island is in line with Article 5 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

But NTI disagrees, and included the old commercial harvest numbers in their calculation, which led to an estimate of 4,325.

And they say that if the NWMB sets a number that is too low, future Inuit hunting rights for Southamption could be limited even after the population recovers.

“I want to put this in very stark and blunt terms: Inuit harvesters of Coral Harbour, Repulse Bay, Chesterfield Inlet and Rankin Inlet would stand to lose guaranteed access to more than 2,400 caribou annually. The government is trying to limit the Inuit right that was negotiated and is protected by the NLCA,” Eetoolook said in the news release.

The NWMB will decide on the issue after hearings scheduled June 3 and June 4 in Iqaluit.

The territorial environment minister, Johnny Mike, may then accept or reject the wildlife board’s recommendation.

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