A file photo of barren-ground caribou. Alexandre Paiement/WWF-Canada
The Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation has renewed its Caribou Stewardship Plan, which reaffirms harvesting restrictions and includes provisions to enforce violations.
Chief and council renewed the plan on February 3, following direction from LKDFN members, a Tuesday press release from the First Nation stated.
The plan – Yúnethé Xá Ɂetthën Hádı – was initially approved by LKDFN in January 2020. It outlines harvesting policies, monitoring work and enforcement measures.
“The Łutsël K’é Dene have proven over generations that we have lived in respectful relationship with caribou – our plan is our way to implement our responsibility for caretaking caribou in modern times,” Chief James Marlowe said in Tuesday’s release.
Included in the plan is a provision to extend a harvesting moratorium for the dwindling Bathurst herd. Given recent rates of decline, the Caribou Stewardship Plan states the herd could disappear in the next three to four years.
LKDFN members are not to harvest from the Bathurst herd until April 30, 2027, according to the plan. After two years, the harvest restriction will be reviewed. The First Nation will also review the entire plan every five years, the document states.
Further, the plan outlines steps toward establishing a disciplinary committee, which will determine appropriate consequences for people who violate the plan’s laws and policies or the territory’s Wildlife Act.
The committee will take a restorative justice approach, according to Tuesday’s press release. LKDFN members caught or suspected of violating the plan may face sanctions “that are proportionate to the severity of the violations,” the plan states. “Acceptable sanctions may range from mandatory community service and educational activities with Elders for minor violations to suspension of nálze (harvesting) privileges for serious offences.”
The committee will be struck by March 1, 2023, according to the document. Members will include four Elders, one representative from chief and council, and one representative from the First Nation’s Wildlife, Lands and Environment Committee.
‘This herd continues to decline’
Work to establish a disciplinary committee comes after the NWT government’s wildlife officers carried out a search at LKDFN’s cultural camp on Artillery Lake. The First Nation has called the search invasive and traumatizing.
The search was conducted last September as part of an investigation into the harvesting of 10 caribou inside a mobile no-hunting area aimed at protecting the Bathurst herd.
A warrant that allowed wildlife officers to search the camp was later deemed unlawful. A lawyer representing the First Nation applied to have the warrant quashed, and lawyers representing the territorial government did not object in court.
In Tuesday’s press release, Marlowe said: “The caribou measures instituted by the GNWT have not been effective at conserving Bathurst caribou. This herd continues to decline, disrespectful harvesting continues, and Dene are feeling criminalized for practicing our way of life.”
Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the territory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said by email that the department supports and encourages community-based initiatives as part of a coordinated approach to overall management of caribou herds across their range.
He added that the department is “interested in working with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations and the Department of Justice to explore the potential for the use of alternative measures and community justice in some cases under the Wildlife Act and regulations once an investigation is completed and the specific details of a situation are considered by the prosecutor on a case-by-case basis.”
Westwick noted that the Wildlife Act, co-drafted by multiple parties, reflects shared interests and consensus on how to protect wildlife.
“The consensus-based approach being used to implement management and conservation actions is essential for us to achieve our shared interest in protecting the Bathurst herd,” he said.
In LKDFN’s Tuesday press release, Marlowe encouraged other Indigenous peoples to use their traditional laws to ensure that caribou remain for future generations.