Hunters are being urged to lay off harvesting Porcupine caribou so that the herd can make it to its traditional winter range.
“We haven’t had any caribou for the last three years,” said Joe Tetlichi, chairperson of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, which gave the recommendation. “There are people having hardships not having Porcupine caribou, which is their main diet.”
Informed by elders, the recommendation is voluntary. Hunters are respecting it, so far, Tetlichi said.
“It’s just those few that are being so ignorant and disrespectful to our traditional elders. I’m not a type of guy that points fingers. We’re all in this together as harvesters and we all need to work together.
“If you see them out there harvesting, tell them not to for a couple of weeks. Short-term sacrifice, long-term gain.”
That gain includes connecting youth to their culture — to who they are.
Caribou in their winter range, which includes areas around the Caribou and upper Peel rivers, means more reason to be on the land, Tetlichi said.
“People are always saying, ‘We need to get the youth out more often for on-the-land programs.’”
Youth will be taught how to hunt respectfully, how to butcher.
“How to share, how to look after the elders,” Tetlichi said. “All these real traditional activities were taken.
“We wanna show respect” to the caribou, he said, noting that this will be reciprocated in their likely return to the area.
Dana Tizya-Tramm, chief of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, grand chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
The caribou, which travel south from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are being hemmed in by several factors. Most are connected to change climate, Tetlichi said, like wildfires, lack of food. All affect migratory patterns.
Hunters could be, too, he said, in that they might be acting like a wall, preventing, at least in part, one of the largest land mammal migrations from occurring full circle.
Since the Dempster Highway was built in the late 1970s, seldom has the herd crossed it to get to the winter range, Tetlichi said.
He said the last time the herd was present in areas around the Caribou and Trail rivers was in the late 1980s.
“We’re trying to tell the harvesters, if you let them pass, they’re gonna go where they need to go. Right now, they’re trying to hunt them before they get to the highway,” noting that the herd did a “U-turn” last year and crossed the border back into Alaska.
Assisting the caribou migration is proactive, Tetlichi said. They’ve arrived in their traditional winter ranges in late August in the past, he said, adding that it’s around this time they’re bulked up with lots of back fat.
“We need to help the process, help the caribou get to where they need to go.”
Contact Julien Gignac at email@example.com