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Forty more caribou were massacred Easter weekend on a road that had been closed to protect the public from being stranded during a blizzard.

Instead of respecting the closure and the attempt to keep everyone safe, cowards with high powered rifles moved in undetected and slaughtered the animals illegally. The bodies of the caribou were left untouched where they fell, the lifeless carcasses testament to the disrespect shown by a few but a reflection on the greater whole who refuses to act on behalf of this herd. The meat was not shared with Elders or children nor hides taken for clothing. There was no good reason for what happened on that Easter weekend which is supposed to be a celebration of a return to life. 

This is not only a crime against nature; it is a crime against creation itself. These animals were gifted to help the very people who took their lives – now the extinction of the herd is inevitable. 

This recent kill happened just two weeks after Environment and Natural Resources held a press conference in which wildlife officials pleaded with the public to stop these senseless acts after 50 other animals were shot illegally during this “hunting” season. This has been one of the worst years for massacres such as this on record in part because of climate change making it easier for illegal, lazy and sloppy hunts such as this. Wildlife officers said during that press conference if more was not done to stop this, the caribou will disappear soon. Very soon. One herd in two years. Those warnings did little to stop these criminals and we have heard nothing from the chiefs or the territorial or federal governments. 

The loss of this species thanks to the reckless behavior of a few will be the legacy of an entire nation of people and the North. And it is a shameful insult to the Elders who would never condone waste such as this. In addition, this government will be remembered as the one who sat by and did nothing while the herds vanished. 

I learned about this slaughter while self-isolating at the Explorer Hotel. In the lobby, I heard two First Nations men discuss seeing the kill but did not report it. That makes them accomplices. 

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I heard two others talking about it at Tim Hortons. While both were angry, they were more concerned about not getting their fair share. Make no mistake, once the caribou are gone, they’re gone. The government cannot replace them; they do not grow on trees nor are they stocked in a federal reserve. And when they go, so too will be a way of life, a culture and a vital component of the Canadian identity. 

Instead of working to educate “hunters” to help them understand the critical nature of the situation, the GNWT spent vast amounts of money last year to shoot a few wolves in an aerial kill. It has ignored the damage to the environment that its infrastructure projects past and present posed to these herds and the MLAs have rarely spoken out – too afraid of political fallout. Using the money from aerial wolf culls to bolster the number of wildlife officers could have gone a long way to save these animals but that did not happen. 

Forty more caribou were massacred Easter weekend on a road that had been closed to protect the public from being stranded during a blizzard, columnist Nancy Vail writes. photo courtesy of ENR

 Scientists have done their best to catalogue the drastically declining numbers but First Nations have not contributed to the rescue even though their culture is affected the most. The children will have nothing. This then, will be our legacy because a few irresponsible people cast a long, dark shadow over an entire culture and territory. 

Like the bands themselves, the government has failed to provide enough staff and equipment to monitor vulnerable areas during the hunting season. A few brave souls have been tasked with patrolling wide swaths of land but what can be done about people who sneak onto roads closed for their protection? Perhaps drones could have spotted and identified these people. How come the GNWT did not hold more town hall meetings in the communities led by First Nations people and for First Nations to better educate everyone about the critical nature of caribou numbers? 

Why did the federal government not act to close those roads which are on crown land? When asked what Ottawa was doing, MP Michael McLeod offered that the Liberal government had talked to the new Biden administration about protecting breeding and habitat grounds in Alaska. That does little to protect the animals in the territories right now. 

 Make no mistake – the extinction of the caribou looms large and will be as devastating as the loss of the bison which also used to roam Canadian soil in great numbers. History books will not look favorably on the people who murdered these animals and the governments that did little to protect them. 

Will the loss of the caribou be the mark the north makes on species preservation or will all of those responsible for taking care of the caribou act boldly now? 

Their survival is our choice.

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