Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. Vice-President James Eetoolook today reacted to the Government of Nunavut’s position on establishing a basic needs level on caribou in the Southampton Island population. NTI and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board have asked the GN to clarify their position on the basic needs level of that population for the last five years. The GN submitted their position to the NWMB last month. The GN’s proposal is contrary to the position that has been taken by NTI and the NWMB.
“The GN’s position is not about conservation. It is about restricting Inuit rights to first access of caribou that are established by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. This is completely unacceptable,” said Eetoolook.
When a total allowable harvest is established on a species, the NWMB is required to determine the Inuit right to first access of the total allowable harvest. This is called the basic needs level. Based on the requirements of the NLCA, and reported Inuit harvesting data provided during the Nunavut Wildlife Harvest Study, NTI proposed that the basic needs level for the Southampton Island caribou population be set at approximately 4,325 caribou per year. The GN proposed the basic needs level to be set at 1,906 caribou annually.
“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,” said Eetoolook. “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,” said Eetoolook.
Eetoolook said that once the basic needs level is established, there are no provisions in the NLCA for it to be changed. It is established as an Inuit right. The setting of the basic needs level at 4,309 is to protect Inuit access to caribou on Southampton Island in the future as this herd increases and the population of Inuit grows. NTI firmly believes it is inappropriate of the GN’s Environment Minister to take actions to limit the Inuit right of access to caribou in the future.
The matter will now go before the NWMB’s public hearing in Iqaluit on June 3-4, 2014. At the conclusion of the hearing, the NWMB will make a decision that establishes the basic needs level for the Southampton Island caribou population. That decision will go to GN Environment Minister Johnny Mike later this spring to be accepted or rejected.
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.