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Blowing snow delays muskox kill

Dez Loreen
Northern News Services

Sachs Harbour (Dec 12/05) - The annual Sachs Harbour muskox harvest was halted late last month when reports of blowing snow forced herders to release the animals.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Murray Arsenault is manager of Community Economic Development for the Inuvialuit Resources Development Corp. and oversees the annual Sachs Harbour muskox harvest. Bad weather conditions and blowing snow delayed this year's harvest. - Dez Loreen/NNSL photo

John Lucas Sr. - a resident of the coastal community who has worked as a harvest herder for the last 20 years - says cold weather has been causing problems for a while this year.

"We had some equipment problems in the beginning," said Lucas.

The equipment used in cutting meat and removing hides from the animals had been acting up because of the cold working environment.

"That's all worked out now, though," said Lucas.

But then came late November's icy blasts.

Blowing snow and harsh winds forced the herders to release about 500 corralled muskox from captivity for the duration of the storm.

However, the animals not being keen to become someone's dinner, they did not hang around, so the five herders were sent back out to gather the muskox again.

Herding muskox for butchering takes almost a week to travel 50 miles outside the community to round them up.

"The storm happened two and a half weeks ago, and people are still just getting back off the land."

Murray Arsenault, manager of Community Economic Development, has overseen the harvest since 1996.

"It was a short term delay, but things are back on track now. Operations should be wrapped up by Dec. 15," said Arsenault.

Lucas added that bad weather has been plaguing the region.

"The weather got bad on Wednesday, so production is held off again," said Lucas.

The harvest employs 20 people from the community to shoot animals, cut meat, and prepare shipments to the south.

Environment and Natural Resources reported in an August 2005 survey that approximately 47,000 muskox are on Banks Island, where Sachs Harbour is located.

The number represents two-thirds of the total muskox population on Inuvialuit land.

"The Inuvialuit have three quarters of the entire world population in their region," said Arsenault.

Muskox are valued for more than their steaks.

Qiviuq, which is the under-fur of the muskox, is a highly valued fabric, said Arsenault. "It's arguably the finest natural fibre in the world."

The people of Sachs Harbour see the muskox hunt as an economic opportunity for their community. The meat and fur are shipped south to processing plants and later distributed to commercial outlets.

Muskox are also a community source for food. Some woven qiviuq clothing makes it back to Sachs Harbour.

Andrea Keogak, originally from Sachs Harbour, knows qiviuq to be perfect for the kind of cold weather that people in the North have to deal with. "It's warm. really warm," said Keogak, who now lives in Inuvik. "My sister has a scarf, a hat and some great gloves. I don't own any myself, but there is a scarf beside me, and it's soft."