Churchill River - Low-level fright
Fighter planes buzz the caribou herds
They arrive without warning, streaking a few scant metres above the ground
and then vanishing in a frightening explosion of sound. They are military attack
planes whose pilots are learning to fly below the view of enemy radar.
From their base here at Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Canadian and European air forces
practise over Labrador because the land resembles that of northern Russia -
still considered by military leaders to be their most likely potential enemy.
The land is barren but not empty. It is home to hundreds of thousands of caribou
whose well-being is a vital concern to Native peoples. The Innu First Nation,
for thousands of years, has depended on the animals for physical survival. Dependence
on the caribou is fundamental to Innu cultural identity.
There are fears, but no scientific proof, that the shrieking military bombers
are terrifying the animals and harming their health and reproduction.
Caribou are also hunted for sport by non-Native visitors. Because these sporthunters
want to kill the biggest and strongest animals for their trophy antlers, such
killing damages the genetic well-being of the entire herd. Innu hunters have
estimated and observed the average weight of adult caribou to be declining.
A recent estimate numbers the herd at more than 450,000. No one knows how this
compares with historical populations. Caribou were hunted to extinction on the
island of Newfoundland and throughout Atlantic Canada.
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