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Metis calling for halt to resource development

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Jan 16/06) - The Northwest Territory Metis Nation wants a halt to resource development in its traditional territory in order to save caribou and other Arctic wildlife. Its board of directors passed a motion to that effect at a pre-Christmas meeting in Edmonton.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Ken Hudson, president of the Fort Smith Metis Council, is concerned about the effect of resource development on NWT caribou herds. The hunter says caribou don't have as much fat as in years past, while illustrating his point with meat from the freezer in his basement. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"They're calling for a pause in resource development until a comprehensive study to determine sustainable thresholds for development is complete," said president Rob Tordiff.

The motion calls for a study on environmental norms, so changes caused by development can be measured.

Tordiff said while there have been many studies over the years, there has not been a comprehensive one in the Metis traditional area, which he describes as the South Slave, the North Slave and portions of the Deh Cho.

One large new study might be needed, or information from existing studies could be gathered together to fill in the gaps, he said.

Tordiff said the study would involve the Metis, the GNWT, the federal government and any aboriginal group that wants to become involved.

"I think ideally it would be nice if all aboriginal governments would join us in this endeavour to see what our lands can sustain," Tordiff said.

The motion does not mean Metis are anti-development, he said.

"This is just a call for responsible management of resources and the natural environment."

GNWT spokesperson Julia Mott said the government has not yet received a copy of the Metis motion and therefore cannot comment.

"But we're looking forward to receiving it and will comment on it at that time," she said.

While the motion does not mention specific animals, Tordiff said the discussion leading up to the motion centred on the declining number of caribou and other animals.

It also took into account changes in the climate. Ken Hudson, president of the Fort Smith Metis Council and a long-time caribou hunter, is one of those concerned.

Since the late 1970s, Hudson has driven to the North Slave to hunt from the Bathurst caribou herd.

A census three years ago estimated the number of animals in the herd had declined to 186,000 from 350,000 in 1996.

Hudson said over the last 10 years, the condition of the animals have deteriorated.

Previously, he said caribou would have an inch of fat on their bodies, but now they might only have a quarter-inch of fat or none at all. Hudson suspects winter roads to the diamond mines are affecting the herds.

"The roads are the big thing," he said, adding that truck traffic doesn't stop caribou from moving around, but slows the animals' movements and disturbs their feeding habits. Hudson also suspects the caribou may be affected by changes to the environment caused by global warming.