Chilcotin aboriginals paid to shoot wild horses
B.C. government program to use animals for wolf bait is raising debate over management of horses
Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, December 06, 2008
The B.C. government paid aboriginal people in the Chilcotin to shoot wild horses for wolf bait and to round up other wild horses for live sale, ultimately to slaughterhouses, The Vancouver Sun has learned.
The Ministry of Environment purchased the shot horses as wolf bait for a predator study related to the recovery of threatened caribou herds in the Interior, while the Ministry of Forests and Range bankrolled the live capture of horses as part of a program to reduce competition with range cattle.
News of the provincial actions is generating debate even within the aboriginal community over the management of wild horses in the Chilcotin and the need to ensure their humane treatment.
Joe Alphonse, director of government services with the Tsilhqot'in National Government (TNG), said in an interview Friday his people have been capturing horses for generations for personal use. The sale to auctions and ultimately to slaughterhouses is also a way for natives on economically depressed reserves to earn money.
"It's acceptable," he said. "It's a last resort, but it still can provide a little bit of income. That's been a part of what we've had to rely on."
But Alphonse said his people cannot condone the shooting of wild horses for use as wolf bait.
"That's not something we would endorse," he said. "I think that if the majority of our people found out the Ministry of Environment is trying to hire people to shoot horses, there'd be outrage.
"If you're going to take a horse, you pay respect and get out on the land and chase that animal in on horseback. If you can't do that, to sit and hide there and shoot guns at a horse out in the wild where the animal could get wounded and suffer, we wouldn't endorse that."
Alphonse said the forests ministry, through an agreement with TNG, paid the Stone band $200 a horse to catch 25 horses last winter to reduce competition with ranchers' cattle. Up to half of the horses were sold at auction and ultimately sent to slaughterhouses, he said, and the rest were kept in the Chilcotin as saddle horses.
The forests ministry would like to continue the program this winter if funding is available.
Environment Ministry spokesman Dan Gilmore confirmed the ministry paid members of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation of the Nemaiah Valley $500 apiece for four horses last winter.
"When it came time to consider how best to lure and capture wolves for the purposes of the mountain caribou recovery program, it was recommended that we use horseflesh," he said in a statement.
"Knowing of the activities of first nations, we undertook to ask if any first nations communities could offer us horses for the purposes of our mountain caribou project.
"We had a number of positive responses, and acted to purchase horses for an agreed price. First nations people selected the horses to be supplied to us, and dispatched them in preparation for transport."
Rodger Stewart, regional manager of environment for the Cariboo, said his office dealt directly with the Xeni Gwet'in administration, which has management control over the horses, and said he would not rule out making another request in the future. The Xeni Gwet'in could not be reached to comment Friday