Vuntut Gwitchin – Old Crow Flats

The Old Crow Flats are found in the North of Yukon in Canada close to the border with Alaska. It has a low relief and is approximately 300m above sea level. It’s made up mainly of polygonal peak bogs and is mountainous to the north, with rolling hills and vegetation that covers the ground. The Vuntut Gwitchin relies heavily on hunting and collecting fruit and berries. They rely upon the seasonal migration of caribou. The porcupine caribou herd migrate north during spring to calve and graze on the previously snow covered land and then, in winter, they migrate south where the snow cover is less deep to search for food. The Vuntut Gwutchin tribe rely on the caribou for meat and for hides which they use for clothing and tents. The caribou bones are also used for soups and as household tools. Recently the lifestyle of the Vuntut Gwitchin has changed as they have set up houses rather than being nomadic, they have started to use snowmobiles rather than sledges and they now use rifles instead of bows and arrows.   A number of things have stayed the same such as their reliance on caribou and some of their hunting methods such as U-shaped traps and erecting fences to trap the caribou. Ecologists have concluded that the caribou birth rate was high enough to sustain the 4% of the population who were hunted yearly but that fluctuations lead to a fall in the population in the 1990s. To this day Vuntut Gwitchin still sends some of their population to seasonally hunt Muskrat, primarily for fur, and to hunt and fish to bring in additional income. The Yunkon government (Vuntut Gwitchin Council) also fund development in the area through the creation of a gravel Quarry. The population loses a large section of it’s working age residents who go to work elsewhere, the creation of the quarry may influence many to stay.  Oil Exploration has been proposed in the a core calving ground for the porcupine caribou herd in Alaska many favour the proposal as it will bring employment and jobs to the area and temporarily fulfil the scarcity of oil. Opposing arguments include the fact that there is only a 50 50 chance of discovering oil in the 1002 lands and that the amount available would only meet US consumption need for 90 days.