Saving sacred ground
Conservation plans ensure respect for traditional places

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Apr 02/99) - About 60 people from the six Inuvialuit communities, including hunters and trappers, community corporation representatives and elders, met in Inuvik March 22 through 24 to discuss conservation plans.

Each community has one of these plans to mark priorities in their area, mostly regarding critical habitat and critical harvesting in their zone.

But the plans contain more than bureaucratic jargon describing lofty aims. They also mark traditionally sacred places.

"There are locations that may not be used today that are critical or important because the old traditional Inuit way of burying their people was above ground with mounds," says Inuvik hunter and trapper committee representative Richard Binder.

"So if you go to Richards Island (just west of Tuktoyaktuk) there are hundreds of graves scattered all over. You go to Kittigazuit and they are there too."

Binder says the plans also set out guidelines for anyone wanting to do seismic-related activities around Husky Lakes. The answer would likely be no because of a possible detrimental impact on traditional fishing areas.

Plans for the long-envisaged Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway include a stretch past Husky Lakes but the consensus is to keep it at least four or five kilometres away.

"They feel too many people venturing out there might have an impact on the area," Binder says.

Some residents have used the area to camp for many years and feel an attachment to it. Easy highway access could mean a glut of weekend campers or tourists crowding out traditional campers.

Brian Johnston, a resource person with the wildlife management advisory council (NWT), says the Inuvik and Aklavik plans were templates for the other communities to follow.

He says the plans are intended to summarize what regulatory measures are already in place, what recent research has been done and what current quotas are for certain species.

The plans also provide basic information on species common to communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, such as important habitat, when species are usually seasonally in the area and how the species are important to the community traditionally.

For example, previously designated polar bear management areas are outlined.

Plans can flag issues and make a record of traditional use in terms of porcupine caribou, Johnston says.

"It would say 'Yes, they are an integral part of culture for people of Inuvik or Aklavik,'" he says.

"But the plans are not legal so they have no regulatory force behind them. They have power because they have influence."

The ready-made conservation plans are "user-friendly," according to Binder, and they provide needed information for government, industry and the joint secretariat's environmental impact screening committee.

Inuvik elders such as Emma Dick, Victor Allen and Willie Steffanson provided input at the workshop after Billy Day provided some elder input back when the first plans were created in 1993.