For more than two decades, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in volunteered to not harvest caribou from the Fortymile herd, after its numbers dwindled.
Now, the First Nation says, the time is right for a community hunt.
“It’s a subsistence hunt that’s intended to bring the community together to reconnect with the Fortymile caribou herd,” said Lee Whalen, fish and wildlife manager with the First Nation.
“There’s kids who are 20 years old now that haven’t harvested that herd.”
The hunt is taking place near the Top of the World Highway, northwest of Dawson City. Whalen said Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens and their families are encouraged to harvest a caribou and share meat with elders and those who cannot harvest for themselves.
“Part of this hunt is this collaboration between elders, youth, community hunters — to be able to teach and learn.”
Connecting to ancestors
The hunt is already off to an auspicious start.
Allison Anderson, a Hän singer, took part in a ceremony to welcome the Fortymile caribou to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditional territory. Later that day, a hunter successfully harvested the first caribou of the community hunt.
Anderson said the ceremony, which included singing and prayers, made her feel more connected to her culture.
“It was one of those … moments when you felt really connected with the land and with ancestors,” she said. “It was awesome to be a part of doing something like that again.”
The harvested caribou has already been smoked and distributed to citizens.
“I heard that a lot of them were really thankful for it, and just so happy to receive meat early this year,” Anderson said.
Hunt opened to Yukoners
Earlier this year, the Yukon government opened the Fortymile caribou herd to licensed hunting for the first time since 1995, when the herd was estimated to be just 6,500 animals. The hunting season was open from Jan.1 to Mar. 31 with 225 tags available on a rotating basis.
At the time, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph said the territory acted too quickly in reopening the hunt.
She said the First Nation was not opposed to a licensed hunt but was still in the process of negotiating a herd management plan with the Yukon government.
The Fortymile herd is estimated to have 84,000 animals. The population rebounded thanks to conservation efforts by First Nations, the state of Alaska, and the Yukon Government.