HERD: Inuit Voices on Caribou
2022, 60:00 minutes, English with subtitles in Inuttitut
In January, 2013, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a 5-year hunting ban on the George River Caribou Herd, a decision made in the wake of a dramatic and precipitous collapse of the herd’s population. Seven years on, with the ban still in place, the continued lack of access to caribou has manifested in cultural, emotional, and physical disruptions for Inuit communities who, for millennia, have had caribou embedded in their way of life.
Head to hoof, brain to back, tongue to tail, everything was used, and nothing was wasted. With caribou, freezers were full, and so were the bellies and hearts of the communities. Derrick Pottle, a long time caribou hunter, explained how “We celebrated it. We shared it. It was a part of who we were. The food, the clothing, the hides, the antlers, the hooves”. The animal nourished collective experiences, cultural resiliency, and deep understandings of place and past. The very heartbeat of Inuit life was woven to the natural rhythms of the herds.
Now, with caribou on the precipice of extirpation, this historic connection is being unraveled, with reverberating effects felt across communities. “You can never replace the caribou”, as Dennis Burden shared. Putting food on the table has become more challenging, more costly, and less healthy. Stories of the past take the place of experiences in the present. Personal and collective identities have been put into question. Intense emotions of excitement, joy, and happiness now substituted for fear, pain, and grief. Caribou was once embedded into the daily lives of many, but is now unknown to a younger generation.
Yet, this human-animal relationship is not solely a remnant of thundering herds from the past. It is a symbol of an enduring bond that continues to live across Labrador, and a deep longing not only for an animal, but also for the interlinked social, cultural, and emotional connections to return in the future. Through the voices of more than 50 Inuit from the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions of Labrador, and their shared link with caribou, HERD illustrates these complex tensions, interplays, and celebrations that exist at the nexus of humans and animals, and illustrates the cascading social, emotional, and cultural disruptions that come from ecological change.
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