Inuit leaders are accusing the federal government of banning whalers in most of Nunavut’s communities from exporting their narwhal tusks. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the territory’s Inuit land-claims organization, says the trade restrictions, which were imposed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, violate Inuit harvesting rights.
In a release Wednesday, Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie called on Ottawa to reverse its decision. Her organization is considering legal options, she added. “DFO does not have the right to impose such restrictions on Inuit, particularly when the [narwhal] population is thriving and harvest numbers do not threaten the species,” Towtongie stated in the release. Nunavut Tunngavik says it was notified of the trade restrictions last week. The group said under the federal order, export permits will not be issued under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for narwhal tusks harvested from 17 of Nunavut’s 25 communities, including the territorial capital of Iqaluit.
Inuit whalers in Kugaaruk, Taloyoak, Gjoa Haven, Igloolik, and Pond Inlet are still permitted to export their harvested narwhal tusks.
“They’ve decided that there are different subpopulations, that some populations may be at risk,” Gabriel Nirlungayuk, Nunavut Tunngavik’s wildlife director, told CBC News.
“We don’t really know what that means. We would like DFO to explain themselves.”
Towtongie and Nirlungayuk said the department based its decision on “faulty scientific data” and no consultation with Inuit. Nunavut Tunngavik cited scientific surveys that peg the narwhal population at around 80,000 in Canada. Inuit harvest about 500 narwhal each year, the group adds. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not yet commented on the trade restrictions being alleged by the Inuit group.
Iqaluit will host one of Nunavut’s prized bowhead whale hunts next summer, giving Inuit hunters there a rare chance to harvest one of the giants of the sea.
Next summer will mark the first time in recent history that Iqaluit hunters will get to harvest one of the massive marine mammals, which can feed hundreds of Inuit in the area with meat and muktaaq.
“It’s very important. It’s been tradition for a long time. I always wanted to go bowhead whale hunt, if I got a chance,” said longtime Iqaluit hunter Solomon Awa, who has never hunted a mighty bowhead.
While whaling has long been a revered tradition in Inuit culture, which emphasizes the ability to live off the land, the bowhead whale was completely off-limits to hunting for decades. As a result, many modern Inuit in Nunavut have not had a chance to go after the large whales.
But as the whale’s numbers started to rebound in the mid-1990s, hunters have been slowly getting their chance. Today, the bowhead whale remains the only animal for which Inuit communities need a licence to hunt.
Nunavut’s Inuit land-claims organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., has fought hard to open up the harvest.
The group convinced the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to recommend raising the annual quota from two to three whales a year. That recommendation was approved by federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea last year.
“It’s very important for younger people to learn. I mean, they have enough distractions already in today’s modern world,” said Gabriel Nirlungayuk, Nunavut Tunngavik’s wildlife director.
“There’s nothing like it to go out on the land, and coming home with dinner.”
So every year, three Nunavut communities are awarded licences to hunt one bowhead whale each. This year, hunts took place in Kugaaruk, Pond Inlet and Repulse Bay, with whalers in the latter two communities having successful hunts.
While hunters like Awa say they are excited with the opportunity, they are quick to note there is no guarantee that they will actually take home a whale.
“Yes, it’s going to be really fun having a bowhead whale hunt here in Iqaluit; [it is] like we’re given a licence [for] opportunity. The question is, are we going to be successful?” Awa said.
“It’s all up to the environment. It’s not up to us. That’s how we always look at it.”
The Amarok Hunters and Trappers Organization in Iqaluit, which is organizing next summer’s hunt, has not yet set an exact date.
Vice-chairman David Alexander said he expects a lot of hunters will want to be in the whaling crew that will go out onto the water and pursue a bowhead.
“It won’t be an easy task as to who will be able to … to be out on this hunt. Hopefully we’ll be able to do the right selection process to get the right people,” Alexander said.
Hunting, butchering work
Awa said he hopes to be part of the whaling crew, but he added that he’ll be happy doing whatever he can.
“The hunting part is fun, but the butchering part is also a lot of work,” he said.
While whale hunting is tied to the Inuit people’s past, the technology hunters use today is modern — a grenade is speared into the giant animal in order to avoid a drawn-out death, Nirlungayuk said.
“You try and aim it for either the brain or the heart or the lungs or both. There’s a gap, about a five- to six-second gap, and then it explodes,” Nirlungayuk said.
Alexander said the chance to hunt a bowhead whale will make up for years in which the beluga whale harvest proved to be disappointing.
He added that the hunt will give Inuit hunters a chance to pass on traditional knowledge to young people, while hopefully feeding a lot of people.
Original article here.