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Media Release - 2010

Media Availability on Wednesday, October 27, 1:30-2:30 PM Central Time for in-person and phone interviews by key participants on workshop progress. In person: Check in at registration at North American Caribou Workshop. Additional interview opportunities are also available.

Contact: Lisa McCrummen
(206) 321-9461 mobile

North America’s Caribou at Critical Juncture
Aboriginal Knowledge Keepers and Western Scientists Come Together
To Tackle Problem of Declines in North American Caribou Populations

Winnipeg, MB, Tuesday, October 26, 2010 – Today, key Aboriginal leaders and traditional knowledge keepers meet with top scientists to discuss joint solutions to ensure the long-term viability of caribou populations. Attendees at the North American Caribou Workshop in Winnipeg will be coming from across North America along with representatives from Norway, Germany and Greenland.

According to a report published this month in Yale University's Environment 360, scientists recognize that the future of caribou populations around the world is in imminent danger. The report also confirms what Aboriginal leaders have long been trying to tell western scientists: that caribou population declines are connected to scarcity of the animals' preferred food due to climate change and habitat loss as a result of resource development such as mining and oil extraction.

Caribou once ranged across most of the Northern Hemisphere. Herds that used to roam in Maine, Washington and other northern states have almost completely disappeared while half of the world’s remaining caribou populations now occupy diminishing ranges in Canada’s Far North, and are experiencing dramatic declines. This year the government of Newfoundland delayed opening the hunting season for the George River Herd, once the most plentiful caribou herd in the world, because of concerns about serious decline.

Last week the most comprehensive report on Canadian biodiversity, Canadian Biodiversity:
Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, also concluded that most northern Canadian caribou herds, including boreal forest-dwelling woodland caribou, are declining, "some precipitously.” The report highlighted the need for action to “maintain functioning ecosystems.”

Valerie Courtois, Senior Advisor in Aboriginal Affairs to the Canadian Boreal Initiative says, “Clearly, caribou are at a critical state and sustainable solutions are urgently needed if we are going to stem the tide. So far the conversation has been around reviewing critical habitat for Species at Risk. If we don’t start addressing bigger issues, including our need to work together to better understand, engage and create dialogue with First Nations and scientists, caribou will continue on a downward spiral.”

Scientists recognize that protecting large, interconnected expanses of boreal and arctic habitat is key to minimizing further reductions in caribou populations. Courtois suggests that it is only with full participation and collaboration between Aboriginal communities, Western scientists, and policymakers that developing a unified approach capable of reversing this and other troublesome environmental trends is possible.

Stephen Kakfwi, former President of the Dene Nation and former Premier of the Northwest Territories, believes that Aboriginal knowledge keepers have a critical role in shaping and leading caribou conservation. “First Nations people have a wealth of intricate land management knowledge as it applies to caribou,” he said. “Losing caribou is not an intellectual exercise for us and it is not an option. If the caribou are destroyed, our people are destroyed.”

Further, Kakfwi suggests that developing real solutions means real collaboration. Particularly for many First Nations, population declines of caribou threaten not only a critical food source, but entire ways of life. Kakfwi cites the Northwest Territories dual management system as an example of emerging cooperative management models that respect the jurisdiction of public and Aboriginal governments in developing agreements on harvest levels and other management actions.

Dr. Micheline Manseau is a conference organizer and scientist who works collaboratively with Aboriginal communities to better understand landscape-level processes and how caribou respond to different natural and anthropogenic disturbances. “Indigenous knowledge and land management systems have developed over thousands of years,” she says. “We can only gain from working together to better understand these complex systems and to create better conservation solutions as we navigate issues from climate change to industrial development.”

During the conference, which lasts through Thursday, October 28, Aboriginal traditional knowledge keepers will share knowledge including traditional maps and stories with western scientists and other conference attendees. Participants will discuss what ‘protection’ means and have a full discourse about Aboriginal rights pertaining to the future of their land – as it relates to caribou.


Caribou Fact Sheet

B-roll and photos
Caribou B-roll (preview):

Link to download high-res video (HD 1080i MPEG4 file at 30 megabits):

Caribou Photos:
Credit: Boreal Songbird Initiative

Credit: Howard Sandler
Credit: Valerie Courtois, Canadian Boreal Initiative

Credit: Valerie Courtois, Canadian Boreal Initiative
Credit: Valerie Courtois, Canadian Boreal Initiative

Additional Background Info/Articles


A Troubling Decline in the Caribou Herds of the Arctic:

Caribou herds dwindling worldwide: Alberta study:

Boreal caribou herds dying off: Report:

Media Contact: Lisa McCrummen, (206)321-9461 mobile,
Interviews Available:

  • Stephen Kakfwi, former President of Dene Nations and former Northwest Territories Premier. He helped initiate the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy, one of the largest ongoing conservation efforts in the world. (867)765-8353/
  • Valerie Courtois, Sr. Advisor for Aboriginal Relations, Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI). Valerie is a senior advisor to CBI and plays a critical role in Aboriginal rights and large scale land protection in Canada’s boreal forest. CBI is a nonprofit organization working to bring science, First Nations, industry and government together to protect support linking aboriginal knowledge and rights in protecting Canada’s boreal forest. CBI is a sponsoring organization of the North American Caribou Workshop. (709) 899-0578
  • Dr. Micheline Manseau, Parks Canada and the Natural Resource Institute at the University of Manitoba, member of the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel. Dr. Manseau is a renowned expert in landscape ecology and has worked extensively in the Canadian north (204) 997-0177.
  • Dr. James Schaefer, Professor and Director, Environmental & Life Science Graduate Program Trent University, member of the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel. Dr. Schaefer is an expert on caribou and conservation biology. (705) 748-1011 ext. 7360.
  • Larry Innes, Executive Director, Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI). Larry leads collaborative conservation efforts involving First Nations, environmental and industry partners across Canada’s Boreal region, CBI and its partners have worked to designate tens of millions of acres for conservation, largely by supporting First Nation-led conservation and land use planning initiatives. Larry has over a decade of experience in this area, having advised and represented the Innu of Labrador and several other First Nations addressing major mining, forestry and hydroelectric developments. (416) 575-6776.


For further information, contact:
Suzanne Fraser, 613-552-7277, sfraser <at>