The Government of the Northwest Territories announced last week that it will no longer ask the NWT Supreme Court whether or not it has the authority to regulate subsistence hunting of barren-ground caribou.
Instead, GNWT officials and regional Aboriginal leaders will come to an agreement and when, and how, caribou hunting should be managed.
“It was felt we needed to bring this to the regional leaders’ table and discuss it there, and to come to a solution on how we move forward on this kind of an issue,” NWT Premier Floyd Roland said.
In February, NWT Justice Minister asked the NWT Supreme Court whether the GNWT had the authority to ban subsistence hunting of the Bathurst caribou herd by Aboriginal groups. The GNWT had instituted a hunting ban in the herd’s winter grounds on Jan. 1. The ban was instantly decried as unlawful by Aboriginal groups and some MLAs.
Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus said he was encouraged by the government’s move.
“I think it’s in our best interest that this issue is resolved where all the parties are involved,” he said Friday. Erasmus said the way the question was drafted meant it would not have dealt with all the issues Aboriginal leaders had with the ban.
Roland added that Environment and Natural Resources officials continue to work with the Tlicho and Akaitcho leaders to discuss a co-management regime. The discussions have been ongoing since just prior to the ban coming into effect, Roland said. They have continued “off-and-on” since then.
Erasmus said a plan to conserve the herds will be developed while sitting at the table – and not in a courtroom.
“They realize it’s beneficial to everyone to sit down and talk. We’re all concerned about the conservation of the herds,” he said. “The issue is not one of whether we have the right to hunt. We know we have the right to hunt. We’ve always managed the herds in our own way and we’ve always monitored them. We want to continue doing that. But we have to do it in conjunction.”
The hunting ban was the appropriate response to the declining numbers within the herd, Roland said.
“We operate from the authority that’s existing and that is why the ban is in place,” he said. “Instead of having the courts decide for us, we felt that it was best to come up with an agreement at the table.”