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Nunavik mayors demand change in beluga system

“When the Inuit are told not to exercise their hunting rights, it is an awkward situation.”

By JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ – Nunavik mayors want changes to the region’s beluga management plan because they say its restrictive quotas are destroying the Inuit way of life.

The mayors also want the Kativik Regional Government’s wildlife conservation officers to stop enforcing beluga quotas, which they call belittling, confusing and unfair, and because it’s a conflict of interest for their fellow Inuit to enforce hunting bans.

That’s what Eli Aullaluk, mayor of Akulivik, told the Kativik Regional Government’s council at its meeting last week in Kuujjuaq.

The mayors say the tough limits on annual beluga hunts are damaging Inuit values of honesty and sharing. They say the bans encourage hunters to break the law, to not report excess kills and to sell the beluga meat and mattak, instead of sharing.

Meanwhile, Inuit wildlife officers must enforce laws they don’t respect, and many Nunavimmiut are deprived of tasty and nutritious blubber.

“When the Inuit are told not to exercise their hunting [rights], it is an awkward situation,” Aullaluk said.

When the region’s mayors met last month in Montreal, they asked Aullaluk, who is also the speaker of the KRG council, to carry their concerns to the council.

“We are Inuit people, and it’s our livelihood to hunt and survive with it. That’s the point we want to make clear,” said Ivujivik mayor Adamie Kalingo, who is also a regional councilor.

This past season, Nunavik hunters exceeded the region’s beluga quota by 14. Hunters from the Hudson Strait, where beluga hunting was banned on Aug. 22, caught 12 of these whales. Two were from the Ungava Bay, where hunting was completely banned in 2006.

According to the 2006-08 beluga management plan, next year hunters will see those 14 belugas subtracted from the region’s total beluga quota.

In Akulivik, faced with a ban on beluga hunting near the community, hunters traveled last month to catch belugas near Nunavut under an agreement with the DFO and Nunavut.

The hunters spent one night anchored in a nearly frozen harbour on Salisbury Island, finally returning home empty-handed after what Aullaluk calls a “horrendous” journey.

With belugas continuing to stream nearby their community, and after an unsuccessful plea to the DFO to free up the quota, hunters headed out, killing four belugas and arriving back just in time for a community feast.

The DFO may, under the Fisheries Act, charge any Nunavik hunters who broke the ban.

Ivujivik’s mayor blasted the region’s efforts to enforce the ban. Kalingo said a team of wildlife officers, along with DFO enforcement officers, landed their helicopter in Ivujivik just as hunters were butchering belugas. The landing spewed dirt over belugas, he said, which intimidated and frightened the hunters, and ruined the meat and mattak, too.

Some regional councillors also accused wildlife officers of hunting belugas out of season or breaking other laws.

“They are Inuit as well, just like us. [But] it seems as that they are working for the governments instead of for the Inuit,” said Davidee Angutinguak, a regional councilor and mayor of Aupaluk.

Nunavik’s wildlife officers and their boss are also unhappy about the increasing strife around the region’s beluga management plan and its enforcement.

Sandy Gordon, the director of the KRG’s renewable resources department, said his wildlife officers are stressed. “I feel for them. They need their jobs.”

Gordon told the council he didn’t want to sit on the Lumaaq beluga co-management committee anymore, and asked a member of the KRG’s executive to replace him.

The KRG lobbied for years to manage its own team of Inuit wildlife officers. Money from the 2002 Sanarrutik social and economic agreement finally included funding for the training and annual salaries of new wildlife officers and wildlife protection assistants, who would also assume the seasonal duties of DFO fisheries guardians.

“As an organization we’ve been asking for responsibility for our region and to be able to say we need to be able to do these things,” KRG chairperson Maggie Emudluk told the regional council.

KRG executive member Aisara Kenoujuak said it wasn’t right to criticize the wildlife officers because they’re “doing what they’re supposed to do. We do the same thing as the officers do, [and] some of us sitting around the table catch what they’re not supposed to,” Kenoujuak said.

Michael Gordon, the KRG’s vice-chairman, questioned whether the KRG was working to assist DFO goals and failing in its role to protect the rights of Inuit.

The council decided to discuss the issue more at a later date. “I believe we must come up with a solution,” Emudluk said.

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