Wildlife officers in the Northwest Territories have opened an investigation into allegations of caribou meat wastage along the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, which connects Yellowknife to the territory’s diamond mines.

The investigation was opened on Wednesday, according to N.W.T. Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) spokesperson Tania Oosting. 

The department would not confirm whether its investigation was related to images posted on Facebook less than a day earlier that appeared to show multiple caribou carcasses with large amounts of meat unharvested. One photo shows a caribou that had been quartered, with a portion of the backstrap removed.

Keegan Black-Fowler, a worker at Gahcho Kué, posted the photos with a caption saying he found the carcasses “on the ice road near Gahcho Kue entrance,” and denouncing those responsible as “greedy and disrespectful.”

Large portions of the Tibbett to Contwoyto winter road — including parts near  Gahcho Kué mine — are included in the current Mobile Core Bathurst Caribou Management Zone, where it is illegal to hunt Bathurst caribou. 

CBC News has not been able to confirm whether the caribou in the pictures were part of the threatened Bathurst herd, or whether they were found in the current no-hunting zone.

Black-Fowler could not be reached for an interview.

Jay McDonald, the minister responsible for ECC, declined an interview with CBC News about the allegations of meat wastage.

Calls for restrictions on winter road access

This is just the latest of several incidents of illegal hunting and meat wastage reported along the Tibbett to Contwoyto winter road in recent years.

Oosting said there are several patrol stations along the winter road, and officers “complete regular patrols by truck, snow machine, and air as required” to ensure that no one is violating harvesting rules, including those around meat wastage.

But some hunters and Indigenous leaders in the territory say it’s not enough, and are calling on the territory to restrict access to the winter road altogether.

Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation Chief James Marlowe is among those who think access to the winter road should be restricted. 

“Our elders, back in 1990, 1993, when the mines were opening up … that was one forecast they expected to happen was, if there’s an ice road, there’s going to be hundreds of people going up that road to slaughter caribou and waste meat,” he said.

“And that is what is happening right now… we’re seeing people from all over the communities, even south of 60, going hunting and taking 20 or 30 caribou.” 

He said he would like to see the Gahcho Kue mine owners set up a checkpoint at the beginning of the winter road to ensure that only people affiliated with the mines, or traditional land users who have historically had their camps in the area, are using the road.

Dettah Chief Ernest Betsina also told CBC he has seen the photos this week on Facebook, and found them “disturbing.”

He said that placing restrictions on the use of the winter road could be a potential option, but first he would like to see wildlife staff meet with mayors and Indigenous leaders to discuss caribou management.

“There’s no really quick answers,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of trying to get the right people on the table with this matter. It’s the first step, to get together and discuss this openly and honestly with each other.”

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