The Caribou Hunt: a consecrated ancestral right

QUEBEC CITY, March 1 /CNW Telbec/ - It is with great pride that the Chiefs of the Innu Strategic Alliance took stock of the recent caribou hunt expedition, which took place last week in Labrador. "This initiative was successful and also a great victory. Above all, we bring caribou back to our communities, and secondly, governments have taken notice, specifically, the Newfoundland/Labrador government which has understood that it must take into account our future rights," said Georges-Ernest Gregoire, Chief of Uashat Mak Mani Utenam.

About 150 hunters took part in this expedition in which one of the objectives was to assert their absolute right to the ancestral caribou hunt on their traditional territory located in both Quebec and Labrador; a right that had been denied until now by the Newfoundland/Labrador government authorities. At the end of the hunt, 250 caribou were killed and brought back to the communities for food supplies.

"For thousands of years, we have practiced the caribou hunt on a territory we call Nitassinan. No border drawn up by Euro-Canadians, upon their arrival four centuries ago, can limit Nitassinan and the inherent rights of its people. Our protest last week was clear and has sharpened our determination to defend our rights against any missives from the federal and provincial governments," said Réal McKenzie, Chief of Matimekush-Lac-John.

Extinction?

"The debate surrounding the extinction of the woodland caribou is hollow. We do not threaten any species. The caribou has been, to us, a sacred animal that we respect and protect since time immemorial. It is not the caribou herd that is on the verge of extinction, but rather the Innu Nation that must fight against assimilation and extinction policies. For us, exercising our rights is a matter of survival," stated Jean-Charles Piétacho, Chief of Ekuanitshit.

Innu elders recall that traditional hunting always prioritizes the complete respect of the animal. Elders who were present last week took advantage of the opportunity to teach their skills to the younger generation. These elders, who thoroughly know Nitassinan, do not understand nor comprehend the Canadian biologists' explanations on the so-called menacing of the herd. They remind us that, before colonization, there was only one caribou herd on that part of the Nitassinan territory. It originated from the Georges River and assured an important migratory cycle. Due to the intensive colonization of the territory, the herd was split and one group became more sedentary and remained in the forest, while the other pursued its normal migratory route. In the process of migration some remained close to the forest. The two groups thus represent a single herd. Some biologists, unaware of historical facts, therefore have falsely perceived the two groups as distinct herds. There are now nearly 3,000 caribou labeled "woodland", which are not endangered.

"Accusations of causing the extinction of the woodland caribou, openly voiced by the Newfoundland / Labrador Government when the Quebec Innu are hunting on the territory, are fraudulent and are intended to arouse public opinion against us, denounces Georges C.S. Bacon, Chief of Unamen Shipu. I have more faith in the Innu, rather than governments, when it comes to protecting wildlife and the environment."

A nation divided by governments

"Our action was not directed against our brothers and sisters of the Innu in Labrador, but against governments that refuse to recognize our rights and impose fictitious boundaries," clarified Raphaël Picard, Chief of Pessamit. He recalled that the division of the Innu Nation is the result of colonial policies of governments, which includes the infamous Indian Act.

The Chiefs of the Innu Alliance recognize the legitimate rights of the Labrador Innu communities to finalize agreements with governments. They do not call into question the agreements or negotiations between the Innu Nation and the federal and provincial governments, but promise to take all necessary measures to ensure that their rights are neither ignored nor mitigated. The Innu Strategic Alliance will continue to fight so that its territorial rights are taken into consideration in the negotiation of a future treaty in Labrador.

The Innu Strategic Alliance

The Innu Strategic Alliance brings together the Chiefs of the Innu communities of Ekuanitshit, Matimekush-Lac John Pessamit, Uashat mak Maniutenam and Unamen Shipu, representing about 12, 000 people and representing 70% of the members of the Innu Nation living in Quebec. The Strategic Alliance's mandate is to enable parties to defend their rights and convergent interests, and to initiate joint actions of all kinds in order to achieve political, economic and judicial results.

SOURCE INNU STRATEGIC ALLIANCE

For further information: For further information: Marie-Hélène Boudreau-Picard, Communications Consultant - Cardinal Communication, (450) 638-5159, (514) 349-2315, 1-877-638-5159, mariehelene@cardinalcommunication.com; www.cardinalcommunication.com

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INNU STRATEGIC ALLIANCE

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