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A seasonal hunt

For thousands of years, Inuit from the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions of Labrador have shared a deep and enduring relationship with the caribou herds in their homelands, including the George River herd. Caribou have been documented as central to Inuit history (Bergerud et al., 2008), food security (Alton Mackey and Orr, 1987), culture (Bergerud et al., 2008; Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table, 2017), connections to the land (Natcher et al., 2012), mental wellbeing (Pufall et al., 2011), spirituality (Pufall et al., 2011), and subsistence (Alton Mackey and Orr, 1987).

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A deep and enduring relationship

Inuit and caribou have shared a deep and enduring relationship for generations.....etc. 

Food for the community

For thousands of years, Inuit from the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions of Labrador have shared a deep and enduring relationship with the caribou herds in their homelands, including the George River herd. Caribou have been documented as central to Inuit history (Bergerud et al., 2008), food security (Alton Mackey and Orr, 1987), culture (Bergerud et al., 2008; Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table, 2017), connections to the land (Natcher et al., 2012), mental wellbeing (Pufall et al., 2011), spirituality (Pufall et al., 2011), and subsistence (Alton Mackey and Orr, 1987).

Caribou cycles

Similar to trends across other parts of the Circumpolar North, research indicates that many of the caribou herds in Labrador have experienced population fluctuations. The George River herd in particular exemplifies the dramatic population cycles that may occur within caribou herds: the herd was estimated to be around 6,000 animals in the early 1950s (Banfield & Tener, 1958; Messier et al., 1988), 15,000 in the late 1950s (Bergerud, 1967; Bergerud et al., 2008), and about 200,000 in the mid 1970s (Messier et al., 1988). By the mid-eighties, the George River herd was considered to be the largest caribou herd in the world (Bergerud et al., 2008; Serge; Couturier, Jean, Otto, & Rivard, 2004; Serge Couturier et al., 2010; Gunn et al., 2009; Mallory & Hillis, 1998; Messier et al., 1988; Pavlov, Kolpashchikov, & Zyryanov, 1996; Payette, Boudreau, Morneau, & Pitre, 2004), totaling around 800,000 animals.

A steep decline

In the coming decades, however, this herd would experience a steep and precipitous decline: numbering about 385,000 in 2001, and 74,000 in 2010 (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2016). To prevent further decline of the caribou, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador issued a total hunting ban on all caribou in 2013 (Castro et al., 2016; Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2016) with support from the Nunatsiavut Government and the NunatuKavut Community Council. As a result, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples are completely prohibited from legally hunting caribou. However, the decline would continue, reaching 8,900 in 2016 (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2016; NunatuKavut Community Council, 2020a), and 5,500 in 2018 (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2018; Nunatsiavut Government, 2020) – meaning this herd has declined by more than 99% since 2001 (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2018). The most recent population survey results from 2020 estimate the herd to be 8,100 – increasing, but very low in population, and still sensitive (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2020). This steep decline led to concerns that the George River herd is “at its greatest known risk for total extirpation” (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2018).