The Yukon government and First Nations governments are releasing conflicting information about hunting rights this year in a situation that is leaving some hunters confused, according to the Fish and Game Association.
The Yukon government issued a statement on hunting rights on Aug. 21 after receiving a high volume of inquiries from the public, according to Megan Foreman, the director of communications for the environment department.
The statement does not name a specific First Nation, but reiterates that “licensed hunters do not require permission to hunt on non-Settlement Lands in any traditional territory.”
This information conflicts with declarations earlier this year from the Liard First Nation, who have declared a hunting ban for non-Kaska and non-local hunters this season in their traditional territory.
In a similar move, Ross River Dena Council has required in recent years for non-Kaska hunters to obtain separate permits from its office for hunting on its traditional territory and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun has asked moose hunters to abstain from hunting on traditional territory this year as well.
Licensed hunters in the territory need written permission from First Nations before hunting any big game or small game species on all Category A settlement lands and before hunting wood bison and elk on Category A and B settlement lands, as explained by the government’s statement.
Those designations come from the Umbrella Final Agreement, but unlike 11 other First Nations in the territory, Ross River First Nation and Liard First Nation have not signed final agreements.
With no settlement lands designated, both Kaska nations assert control of their traditional territories, which are much larger areas than settlement lands.
Their authority over hunting rights is not legally recognized by the Yukon government, leaving licensed hunters questioning whose advice they should follow.
Chief Stephen Charlie of Liard First Nation said the Yukon government’s statement amounts to protecting the settlement land of some First Nations but leaves Kaska lands vulnerable to additional pressure.
“You don’t want the Yukon government issuing wildlife licenses to all residents of the Yukon and say, ‘You know what, you can’t hunt on First Nation private land, but you can hunt anywhere on their public lands. And guess what? The Kaska don’t have a land claim so you can go and harvest whatever you want down there,’” he said.
“We don’t believe that. We believe that they are obligated to ensure that our rights are honoured. And our right to food security is one of those rights.”
He said Kaska leadership is currently discussing how to enforce the ban and plans to meet with the Yukon government in September. Charlie said he hopes a solution can be reached that involves obtaining new data on moose numbers, reducing regional tags if necessary and prioritizing local hunters.
“Hopefully, people can respect what we believe is necessary in protecting our rights. If the Yukon government is not going to be stepping in ensuring that our rights are protected then we will have to approach it with other means,” he said.
The Yukon Fish and Game Association is calling on environment minister Pauline Frost to release a further statement clarifying the situation.
“The Yukon government issued tags for all these regions all around the Yukon … so now for a third party to say, ‘Hey, by the way, don’t come here,’ and sometimes saying, ‘or else,’ is really getting residents a little bit nervous,” said president Charles Shewen.
Shewen said the association has received many questions following the release of hunting ban statements and that most hunters are not interested in conflict, but the association is encouraging people to go forward with their plans for the season.
“I do think that if even one trip got canceled, it would be in my mind a real shame,” he said.
“I think they’re coming from a good place mostly and Yukoners are familiar with self-governing agreements. We’ve been following them for a long time. You’re always mindful of the land you’re on and when you need permission. But this just basically is a grenade into the whole system of wildlife management right in the middle of hunting season,” he said.
Shewen said non-Indigenous hunters share concerns about keeping populations of moose and other animals stable, but the most recent bans amount to “managing people rather than wildlife.”
“We need to manage the wildlife resource, but this isn’t the right way to do it,” he said. “So the bottom line from the [Fish and Game Association] Board of Directors perspective is this government needs to step in and the minister should be the one to provide some certainty.”
Minister Frost’s office did not respond to a request for comment in time for press.
Ross River Dena Council Deputy Chief Robby Dick said for its part, the First Nation has no plans to block roads and no way to legally enforce the permit system required for traditional territory hunting but are still asking hunters to respect it.
“Indigenous people are not recognized in the colonial law, so it’s really hard to enforce it,” he said.
“We’re just telling people, just educating them to respect the land and of course, they could still get permission from Yukon. But at the same time we want our voice to be heard. It’s empowering for them to acquire permission from us too, as recognition that we are a government.”
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