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The Changing Methods of Caribou Hunting

A fascinating story about changing caribou hunting techniques appeared in Canoe News’s science section. The article suggests that aboriginal hunting generally — and changing views of animals and high powered rifles specifically — is contributing to significant declines in caribou numbers in the Northwest Territories. Aboriginal hunting may be affecting the numbers more than industrial activity.

I am attracted to the way in which the elders talk about and describe the changes to hunting practices:

Hunters used to depend on experience to find caribou and on dog teams to get to where they were.

Now, herds can be spotted from airplanes and tracked through the Internet. Transportation is easier with roads, trucks and snow machines. The animals are shot with high-powered rifles. Hunters who used to go out a few times a year go out almost monthly.

“You have people going out for a couple hours and coming back with caribou,” said [Robert Charlie, head of the Gwich’In Renewable Resources Board].

Jimmy Rabesca, a 73-year-old Dogrib elder from Wha Ti, said that ease of access has eroded some of the old reverence for the land and the animals it succors.

“We used to hunt animals kindly, respectfully,” he said through a translator. “We shot animals because we loved them and we loved the land. Today . . .” he trailed off, shaking his head.

Rabesca told the conference he no longer allows his sons to shoot caribou when he and his boys hunt.

“They’re just playing games out there.”

Elder Jimmy Rabesca’s phrase ‘we shot animals because we loved them’ may sound strange to outsiders. It is consistent, however, with the way in which anthropologists have documented relationships between native people and animals. The phrase says something dramatic about the sacrifice that animals (their spirits?) make of themselves to respectful hunters — and points to the hunters’s acceptance of that sacrifice.

The article continues with the suggestions of local native elders that traditional conservation techniques need to be used more regularly.

See also ‘NWT Considers Non-native Caribou Hunting Ban‘ (

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