The first footage and photography from an NWT government search of a cultural camp earlier this week has appeared on Facebook.
The Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation had said multiple people filmed two wildlife officers as they searched the camp at Artillery Lake following the discovery of carcasses in a caribou no-hunting zone farther north.
Environment minister Shane Thompson earlier this week said the officers were implementing “caribou conservation measures that have been developed collaboratively.”
The First Nation, however, said what took place was an “invasive search of family tents and teepees” that lasted some four hours.
Larry Innes, a lawyer representing the First Nation, said on Wednesday: “To imagine this could happen at a cultural camp in front of Elders, children and people traumatized by excessive and inappropriate law enforcement over generations? For that to happen in 2022 is unimaginable, particularly in a community like Łútsël K’é that has demonstrated leadership in caribou conservation.”
Footage of the search was uploaded to Facebook on Friday by Iris Catholique, who manages the Thaidene Nëné protected area on behalf of the First Nation.
One video clip, a little over a minute long, shows two officers entering a structure and asking for a sample of meat.
“Why are you doing this to Elders?” the officers are asked by one person, who continues: “Why don’t you just take it all and then replace it with a nice T-bone steak?”
At one point, the person asserts that the meat being inspected is from February.
In a second clip, the officers can be seen searching through freezers.
“So disappointed these ENR officers took samples of all our meat even from our spring hunts! They didn’t even wear gloves in the search,” Catholique wrote in text accompanying the video clips.
The cultural camp at Artillery Lake, northeast of Łútsël K’é, is an annual event that lasts for a number of weeks. Around 70 to 80 people are reported to have been present.
Thompson said the search took place after “two independent reports from members of the public” regarding illegal harvesting in what is known as a mobile zone, a no-hunting area designed to protect what remains of the vastly depleted Bathurst caribou herd.
Ten caribou were harvested in that zone, the minister stated, and “a significant amount of suspected wasted edible meat was identified.”
“We are shocked that the GNWT would carry out what amounted to a forceful invasion of our cultural camp,” Catholique had earlier stated in a Wednesday press release.
So far, no charges related to the search have been laid.
After this article was first published, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in a brief statement: “Officers are continuing to thoroughly investigate. Wildlife investigations are complex and decisions on whether to lay charges take time.”
“We look forward to continuing to work together with all of our partners to support the recovery of the Bathurst herd,” Thompson said on Thursday. The First Nation, meanwhile, has called for an investigation into the manner in which the search was carried out.