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Reindeer in the clear to move

Legal disputes resolved, opening the way for the recovery of the Delta industry

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Dec 10/01) - The parties involved in a 15-year-old legal dispute over the pasturing of an historic reindeer herd have reached an out-of-court settlement, News/North has learned.

NNSL Photo

Lloyd Binder, the president and general manager of Kunnek Resources Development Corp., hopes to revitalize the Mackenzie Delta reindeer herd.

The federal government, Inuvialuit Regional Corp., and private owner of the Western Arctic herd have been arguing for years over grazing rights.

A year after the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in 1985, the IRC sued Canadian Reindeer Ltd. for non-payment of grazing fees. In turn, Canadian Reindeer Ltd., owned by Tuktoyaktuk resident William Nasogaluak, launched a suit against the federal government for failing to protect existing grazing rights when it ceded the old Mackenzie Delta Reindeer Grazing Reserve to the Inuvialuit.

The land in question is located between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, falling into the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

According to a source within the IRC, the parties have reached an agreement that involves the transfer of the herd to a new Inuvialuit-owned company, Kunnek Resource Development Corp., and the dropping of outstanding legal claims. The deal has only to be ratified by the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs before it becomes final. The department is expected to make an announcement about the deal shortly.

The resolution of the legal dispute will allow Inuvik entrepreneur Lloyd Binder to try his hand at making the herd profitable. Binder comes from a family with a long history of involvement in reindeer. He formed Kunnek Resource Development Corp. four-and-a half years ago, when he retired quit the civil service.

"It was an interesting project, it had economic potential, and I was always interested in the potential of reindeer," he says. "I was born at Reindeer Station, my grandparents and parents were both involved in the project, 'kunnek' means reindeer, and it happens to be my nickname to boot."

The federal government brought the reindeer to this region from Alaska in 1935 as part of a development project. The government hoped that reindeer -- a semi-domesticated cousin to the caribou -- would provide a source of meat and livelihood to communities suffering from a declining caribou population. Although the project never took hold in the way the federal government had planned, several families managed to make their living ranching reindeer over the years.

Since the mid-1980s, however, the herd has been straggling along on less-than-favorable pasture due to the dispute between the herd owner and the Inuvialuit.

Binder spearheaded the plan to bring the reindeer herd into compliance with Inuvialuit regulations, and manage the herd more closely to allow it to grow in size. By bringing the herd back to its preferred range, Binder is hoping to see it expand over the next three years from 3,500 animals to a more economically viable 7,000 animals.

Kunnek Resource Development Corp. had been contracted to manage the herd for Canadian Reindeer Ltd. while the sale of the herd was being negotiated, but with the unresolved legal issues looming, it has been difficult for Kunnek to secure capital.

With much of the paperwork finally complete, Binder has been able to access new financing, including a $150,000 investment from the NWT Development Corp.

Binder plans to continue harvesting and selling antler and velvet, used in traditional Chinese medicine, and he hopes to eventually expand to meat sales, tourism and live-animal sales.

Looking back, Binder says he had no idea it would take so long to clear through what he calls "a paper nightmare." Aside from the legal disputes, the company also had to deal with an environmental review that took two long years to complete.

On Thursday, the herd was finally moved from its summer range on Richards Island to the new winter range about 60 kilometres north of Inuvik, marking what could be a come-back for the region's reindeer industry.