Cree, Inuit groups join others in call to eliminate lead from ammunition, fishing tackle

A coalition of Cree and Inuit groups in Quebec — as well as scientists, health professionals and environmentalists from across North America — are calling on the federal government to eliminate the use of lead in ammunition and fishing tackle.

The group wrote an open letter to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, urging action, saying voluntary approaches have “proven ineffective” and the lead making it into the environment from these sources is “causing serious harm” in hunting and fishing communities that rely on subsistence hunting.

This poses a particular threat to Indigenous communities and Indigenous children, it said. 

Over 80 individuals and organizations, including the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the David Suzuki Foundation, also signed the letter.

“We are trying to put our voice in to make sure they look at it overall and not just look at the population in the south,” said Paul Linton, one of the signatories of the letter and assistant director of public health for Chishaayiyuu (people over the age of 30) for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services also signed the letter, as did the heads of the respective Cree and Inuit hunting and trapping associations.

Minnie Shem does a traditional cooking demonstration in Chisasibi, in 2017. Paul Linton says the population in Cree territory eats much more traditionally hunted small game, and therefore will be more adversely impacted by the harmful effects of lead shot. (Celina Wapachee/CBC)

“When you look at non-Natives down south hunting small game, they will probably eat four or five meals of partridge per year, whereas the Crees will probably eat it twice a week,” said Linton.

In early April, Environment and Climate Change Canada released two studies, one of which forecasts the amount of lead from ammunition, fishing sinkers and jigs released into the environment will rise from 5,000 tonnes in 2016 to 5,800 tonnes in 2025, as the popularity of the sport hunt continues to increase.

Lead poisoning is particularly harmful to children, affecting the development of the brain and nervous system.

In the late 1990s, the federal government banned lead shot for longer range hunting of migratory game birds, because the birds were dying of lead poisoning, according to Linton.

“They’ve done a very good job of protecting the birds,” Linton said.” Now what we are asking them to do is to do a very good job of protecting the people.”

‘They’ve done a very good job of protecting the birds,’ said Paul Linton, one of the letter’s signatories. ‘Now, what we are asking them to do is to do a very good job of protecting the people.’ (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)

“They got rid of lead in paint. They got rid of lead in gasoline,” Linton said. “I hope it’s [an issue] of omission, because they are looking at the data from down south.”

A leading organization representing Canadian gun owners came out last week saying the federal government is attempting to “set up more anti-gun obstacles” with the release of the new studies.

The Cree public health board is engaged in a public education campaign to try and convince hunters to switch their ammunition. 

But Linton says it’s a hard sell because the price of lead shot is still cheaper than steel shot, with steel shot costing up to double the price of lead shot.

The coalition is also calling on the federal government to change its “outdated, dangerously inadequate” guidelines for harmful lead levels, particularly with respect to children. It is also calling for Ottawa to introduce an action plan for the phasing out of use of lead in ammunition and fishing gear and to set up a fund to help Indigenous communities to make the transition away from lead.

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