Naskapi caribou hunters cause uproar after taking dozens of caribou in Eeyou Istchee

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Chisasibi’s Lorne Sam found the caribou before he met the Naskapi hunters.

“Near kilometre 112 on the Trans-Taiga Highway, there’s a road that goes to one of the excess-dykes for the LG-3 dam,” Sam told the Nation. “I saw a caribou lying in the middle of the road. It was left there. My brother and I went to check on it. The caribou was still warm. It had been shot recently.

“When I went to go get my knife, the guy came around with his pickup. He came out. I introduced myself and asked, ‘Is this your caribou?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ Then a couple more hunters came out from the bush. It was one adult, and three of his sons, I think. They already killed four caribou at that one spot. He said, ‘All the caribou ran off, so I chased them with my pickup.’”

They were Naskapi from near Schefferville. Sam said he was honoured to meet them.

“I said, ‘Hello, welcome to our territory,” he recalled. Then he went on his way. It was only on returning the next day that he found caribou guts strewn along the side of the road.

“That scene I didn’t like, but I didn’t know who did it,” he explained. “I went to the same spot where I’d met them, there was a camp nearby. I drove up the access road to the camp and I saw their campsite – and that’s where I saw 16 caribou, all lined up and gutted. And they were still driving around in their pickups. Three pickups already had a couple more caribou in the trucks. I looked at my buddy at the time and said, ‘That’s not how we hunt.’”

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Images from the hunt were soon all over social media, and discussion grew both in Cree and Jamesian communities. Radisson’s Luc Gervais, in particular, posted a description of the hunt’s aftermath, which he mocked as “traditional slaughter,” and alleged that the hunters were selling their meat in the south and would soon be back for more. He claimed he had counted 115 caribou. Among Cree Facebook groups, rumours swelled that the hunters were killing in such huge numbers in order to sell their meat. The estimated number of caribou killed ranged from 60 up to 200.

One local recognized the outsiders and identified one of them. When reached by the Nation, the hunter spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I was there for the hunt, over at Radisson. We killed 70 caribou. We were 15 of us,” he explained. “We weren’t invited. We’re allowed because we’re Naskapis. It’s Innus who aren’t allowed. It’s in the Cree-Naskapi Act. We took papers from our band with us. It’s different than the way they hunt there – we just go once a year, we get five each for our families. I’ve got more than 100 people in my family. The Crees do it that way too sometimes. And they’re not just their caribou. I’ve seen photos of the way some of the others do it. They throw out things they don’t use. We take everything back. We gutted them, that’s it. I’ve seen people leave the heads and the legs.”

He said that his group of 15 absolutely did not sell the meat, because he considers selling country meat deeply disrespectful to the land. However, he said another Naskapi hunter had shot 60 caribou in Eeyou Istchee on a recent trip of his own, and on returning to his community, had sold them for between $300 and $400 a head, even trying to sell them to the Hunter Support Program (which refused them).

The Nation was forwarded the text of a social media post allegedly made by the second hunter, in which he argued that hunting is hard, difficult work, requiring expensive rifles, ammunition, snowmobiles and equipment.

“We buy beef, chicken, pork and other meats at the store and never complain about the farmers who charge for the meat,” the post read. “But when an Native or Inuk charges for his or her catches, they fail to see how much effort it took to catch the animals. Yes, there was sharing in the past but money had little meaning back then, but now absolutely nothing is free. Please do not complain about Native and Inuit selling country food and stop being a freeloader and make the hunter pay for everything while you enjoy his or her efforts.”

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Ricky Angatookaluk, from Chisasibi, was sympathetic to Naskapi and Innu hunters, because the George River herd that those Nations once harvested has collapsed so drastically that the hunt has been completely closed, even to Native hunters.

However, he drew the line at the idea of selling country meat. “A lot of them are traditional keepers,” he said of the Naskapi and Innu. “But some of them do sell caribou meat or a whole caribou. There’s not much to say, but we all have the same feelings in Chisasibi.”

Sam said he was amazed the Naskapi were allowed to hunt in the Chisasibi region. “We thought they were just going to kill a couple and leave, but when I saw 16 caribou lying in the camp, plus the ones in their pickups, they had more than 20. I was there Friday and Saturday – they were killing more than 20 a day. I saw on Facebook that they were still hunting there two days later.”

Sam believed that this kind of hunting played a role in the rapid decline by more than 90% of the George River caribou herd “on their side” of Quebec.

“When the Grand Council heard that the George River herd was almost extinct, they opened up to the Innu hunters and invited them to hunt here in our territories,” Sam explained. “But they didn’t know what was coming. They overkill them. I don’t know what they’re thinking, coming onto our side of the territory and hunting the same way they did on their land. You can’t kill that many caribou at once – that’s not how it works. When I went hunting last time, we killed one for my family and one for my buddy’s family. The meat is still in my freezer. I’m going to go again to stock up my meat later on.”

This is not the first time this year that outsiders have come in after the caribou, Sam noted. Recently, a number of hunters he believed to be Innu were after the caribou near LG-1.

“A lot of people thought they were dangerous, because they don’t know where the camps are, where people are living in the camps along the highway. Some people said they saw bullet holes in their tents.”

Sam didn’t blame all Innu or Naskapi for what he sees as the misdeeds of their cousins. However, he said, “The way I saw them is the way I’m going to judge them.”

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