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Sunday 10 February 2013

Labrador Caribou and Red Herrings

I don't often give advice on any sort of personal level, especially unprompted advice. However one bucket list item I always suggest people scratch out early is a trip to Labrador. And if it's not on your bucket list then it should be. It's land and people are unlike any other and you need to experience it for yourself. About 10 years ago I had the pleasure of living in Wabush for a couple of years, and what made that time extra special was that I had the opportunity to travel around and see more of The Big Land then just Lab West. I met people and saw things that were truly unique to Labrador. One of those things I will remember is when I served as an observer on the Labrador Woodland Caribou Recovery Team.

Labrador Caribou are generally divided into two main groups, the non-migratory Woodland Caribou that are a protected species and the migratory George River Caribou herd. The Woodland group was generally considered to be made up of three herds in the Red Wine, Mealy Mountains, and Lac Joseph areas of Labrador. While they do move around within their regions there is no comparison to the tremendous migratory pattern of the George River herd. At the time when I lived in labrador the Woodland Caribou population was somewhere between 2000 to 5000 based largely on ariel head counts, while the George Rive heard was estimated somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000 by some. The George River herd was open to hunting to all residents of Labrador, and boy did they take advantage of that opportunity. I have photos of many many heads and carcasses littered along the sides of the Trans-Labrador Highway from one season alone.  The Woodland herds were off limits to all hunters, supposedly.

If you even vaguely  follow the news then I'm sure you'll recall stories of Quebec Innu hunter crossing into Labrador to hunt and kill the protected Woodland herds, at least once even bringing a rented panel van to carry back their game. There were multiple incidents over the years with multiple threats made on both sides but in the end very little was ever done from an enforcement perspective. No doubt politics have played a huge role in the lack of action in the multiple incidents. I was told of one example where a radio tracking collar was found in the freezer of a gentlemen in Quebec. No action was take except to request the return of the collar. Fast forward 10 years and what has changed?

Now the once healthy George River herd is in trouble and the Provincial Government is implementing hunting restrictions in an attempt to let the herd rebuild. Some aboriginal groups and individuals have stated that they don't care what the government implements they will continue to hunt as it is their right to do so and has been for hundreds of years. The real explosion began when VOCM Open Line host Randy Simms berated former Innu leader Simeon Tshakapesh and openly called him stupid for continuing to hunt a species that was in danger just because they considered it their right. Simms went on to say that any who continued to hunt were also stupid. And thats when Tshakapesh unleashed the accusation that Simms comments were racist.

Was Simms being rude and unnecessarily confrontational? Yes. He even hung up on the caller without any real chance for discussion, however his comments were not racist.

Racism is a constant struggle that we all must work to overcome wherever it exists, but so must we recognize when it is being used as a red herring to distract from the real issue as it was in this case. Race is completely irrelevant to this discussion. The herd is in trouble and the Province has done the proper thing and instituted a hunting ban for everyone. If there are those who feel the rules do not apply to them then they have to realize there is one set of rules for all, or at least there should be. I've never been much of a fan of double standards of any sort, regardless of history. If animals shouldn't be hunted then no one should be permitted to hunt them regardless of history, race or culture. Period. To provide special exceptions because of any of those things, especially race,  is in fact the very definition of racism.  

The race of the hunter has no bearing on conservation of a caribou herd, to think otherwise, to quote Mr. Simms "is just stupid."

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