Aboriginal hunters who defy the NorthWest Territory’s governmental ban on caribou hunting could find themselves facing an uphill legal battle, says an expert on native rights.
Ken Coates, an historian says the Aboriginal right to hunt is protected by the Constitution but that previous Canadian court decisions show those rights can be trumped by government when conservation is at issue.
“What you have at the root of all of this is a huge debate over who gets to make these calls,” Coates told CBC News. “Do the aboriginal people who lived closest to the resource and use it have the claim to control it? Or do the biologists basically working for the goverment have the right to make the decision about the vulnerability of the herd?”
N.W.T. Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger said the Tlicho government was consulted from beginning to end about the risks to the herd because of declining numbers.
According to the government’s count, the Bathurst caribou herd declined from 186,000 in 2003 to just 32,000 this year.
The hunting ban applies to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal hunters, and the no-hunting zone includes most of the central part of the territory, from the north shore of Great Slave Lake to the boundary with Nunavut.