PAGC concerned about cancellation of caribou expert

Ministry of Environment says it was not appropriate for provincial representative to represent both the board and the province at event

Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte with his predecessor Ron Michel in the background. (Herald file photo)

Executives of the Prince Albert Grand Council and the Athabasca Denesuline Chief are accusing the province of preventing key experts from presenting to delegates at a regional barren-ground caribou workshop, but the province says it’s simply a case of one person serving in two roles.

The workshop took place this week on Hatchet Lake Denesuline First nations to discuss the potential listing of barren ground caribou as “threatened” under the Species at Risk Act, and ways the Athabasca Denesuline can strengthen populations.

According to a media release, specialists from both the federal and provincial government, as well as representatives from the Beverly Qaminirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB), were invited to present information that could assist people to better understand the issues.

According to PAGC, the government cancelled its participation last-minute.

“This is a shared responsibility, and by failing to allow the provincial regional biologist who is also a BQCMB executive member to travel and present, the Minister’s office showed its lack of commitment in dealing with caribou issues,” said PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte in a press release.

“Since we are one of the main stakeholders at hand, it was important to have the province attend this meeting in order to share knowledge and listen to the communities who will be most impacted by this change.”

“The Athabasca Denesuline Chiefs are deeply concerned that there was no explanation given as to why key staff were prevented from attending and providing valuable information,” added PAGC Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie.

“Without having received any clear answers from them, we strongly believe that this is a step back in efforts of reconciliation with our First Nation communities.”

Responding to the accusations, the province said it continues to support the BQCMB and the cancellation was due to a conflict of interest.

A response from the Ministry of Environment said it was committed to continued support for the management board and respects its good work, as well as providing an annual grant of $10,000. The ministry also has a representative on the board but felt it was not appropriate for the same individual to represent both the ministry and the board at the event.

The statement said that the provincial Ministry of Environment intends to participate in future discussions and meeting regarding the barren-ground caribou going forward.

The species was classified as “threatened” in the Northwest Territories in 2018. According to CBC News, some estimates have shown up to a 95 per cent drop from historic highs.