A herd of Porcupine caribou is moving along the Dempster Highway, in Arctic Canada, a phenomenon many say hasn’t been seen in two years.
The herd’s migration from Alaska this year has taken them along the highway, and directly over it. The herd travelled from Alaska, then went into Yukon before arriving in the Northwest Territories. The caribou will now winter in Yukon and Northwest Territories mountain ranges, where they are now headed.
People are excited to go hunting, but elders and leaders in the Beaufort Delta region are encouraging residents to wait until the herd has completely crossed the highway.
That might be difficult advice to heed.
“They haven’t been coming to our area throughout the winter so it has a big impact on the people… our diets consist of a lot of caribou,” said Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, grand chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council.
She said there are about 200,000 caribou in the herd.
Robert Alexie Sr. said people should wait because he wants them to follow the same path again in the future, returning them to the region.
The fear is that caribou, already wary of crossing roadways, might have their wariness confirmed if they’re hunted while making the crossing.
Hunt, but not yet
“We are not stopping you, go ahead — go hunt, but go on the right side and don’t bother … caribou going over the highway,” Alexie said.
“We want to see caribou up here for the rest of the time during the winter … we had no meat last winter and before that barely [any].”
Robert Charlie, chief of the Inuvik Native Band, agrees and adds there’s a practical reason to not hunt too early.
“Because of the warm weather the meat will probably spoil fairly quick,” he said. “It’s better to let them pass and hunt them later on in the season when it starts to get a little bit cooler.”
Charlie said mid-September is a better time to hunt for caribou.
Greenland Morgan said it’s very important to remember the knowledge that’s been passed down from the generations before them.
“Follow the teachings of the elders … listen to the elders,” she said.
“I can’t stress that enough, We need to listen to them.”
Related stories from around the North:
Norway: “The ‘Smart Arctic’ is Indigenous,” Saami leader tells Arctic Frontiers, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Authorities in northwest Russia move to protect wild reindeer, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Indigenous reindeer herders request emergency aid after drought, wildfires ravage Sweden, Eye on the Arctic
United States: ‘We are caribou people’: First Nations leaders in Washington to push for ANWR protection, CBC News