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Mr. Speaker, caribou have sustained Northerners and communities across the Northwest Territories for generations.
Today, caribou herds face pressure from a wide range of natural factors and human activity throughout their range, including the impacts of climate change. We all want to see healthy caribou herds that can sustain harvest and cultural traditions for generations to come.
With the winter’s harvest underway and weather getting warmer, I would like to speak today on respectful harvesting, why it is important, and what our government is doing to encourage safe, legal and respectful harvesting.
Mr. Speaker, we are working with our co-management partners to strengthen awareness and support for the conservation of caribou. Our focus on promoting respectful harvesting is meant to remind everyone that their individual choices make an important difference.
To that end, our government has worked with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, and respected harvesters to build a communications campaign based on traditional values.
The campaign will focus on key messages grounded on what we have heard working with co-management partners and respected harvesters: harvest respectfully, guided by traditional practices of take only what you need; don’t leave anything behind; share what you have when you get back; and, learn from your Elders.
Mr. Speaker, this is timeless advice and the good news is that almost everyone out there is following it.
Unfortunately, there are still those hunting illegally in the Bathurst mobile zone, which was put in place through legislation to protect the herd based on agreement between co-management partners.
There are still caribou being wounded, wasted and left behind.
We hear from Elders and respected harvesters that some people are hunting without respect for the caribou or the people and communities that rely on them.
Mr. Speaker, the stakes are high. Indigenous leaders, Elders, and respected harvesters continue to tell us that they are concerned for the future of caribou in the NWT.
That message is being shared for good reason. The Bathurst herd has declined nearly 99% in number since 1986. Despite this dramatic decline and increasingly urgent messages from leaders, we are still seeing some cases of illegal harvesting of this critically low herd.
That is why today the herd is protected by our territory’s collaboratively developed laws, herd management plans, and local community caribou stewardship plans that all reflect an agreement to not harvest from the Bathurst herd.
Mr. Speaker, in January 2022 I met with Indigenous leaders from communities on the Bathurst herd range to discuss the recommendations of a respected harvesters meeting. We all agreed that harvest needs being done in a safe, legal and respectful manner, and in a way that supports our shared conservation goals.
These goals are undermined by illegal harvesting and wastage and are not consistent with traditional and cultural harvesting practices. Every time people take more than they need, they put more strain on herds that are already under pressure.
We applaud the vast majority of hunters that are harvesting in a safe, legal, and respectful way, and the support of all of our co-management partners in protecting caribou.
We call on everyone to follow these examples and act now. Harvest with respect today, so there will be healthy caribou herds supporting our communities tomorrow.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.