Cree health officials urge hunters to switch to steel bullets, abandon lead

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As many Quebec Cree are out celebrating one of the most important holidays of the year — the annual spring goose hunt — public health officials are spreading an important message: change your bullets from lead to steel.

Paul Linton, the assistant director of public health for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, which launched the public education campaign earlier this year, says the use of lead bullets is a particular concern in Cree and other northern communities, because of the amount of traditional food the population is eating.

“Probably 50 per cent of the food that is given to the children is harvested. The amount of lead going in is high. That is where it becomes a concern for us.”

Josh Moses hunting

Young Josh Moses hunting. Health officials say about 50 per cent of food given to children in Cree communities is harvested. (Submitted by Jamie Moses)

According to the World Health Organization, lead poisoning is particularly harmful to children, affecting the development of the brain and nervous system.

Linton says it’s an issue that is affecting First Nations communities right across the country, and the board of health is hoping to put pressure on the federal government to eventually ban lead bullets outright.

In the late 1990s, the federal government banned lead shot for longer range hunting of migratory game birds, but Linton says the Cree are still able to use lead shot because of their style of hunting.

A steel bullet can cost more than double what a lead shot does, which Linton says is a large part of people’s resistance to making the switch.

“Food insecurity is a big issue in all First Nations. So money is an issue. So to get traditional food, they are going to take the cheapest way possible to get traditional food, so that means right now lead shot.”

Linton says for larger game, it’s important to not eat the meat that is four inches around an entry wound, because lead shot breaks into microscopic bits that can only be seen with X-ray.

Feds should ‘get their act together’

The campaign includes posters in the communities and outreach to local hunting supply stores in the region to convince them to at least carry steel shot bullets, which is not always the case right now.

Hunted geese

‘Food insecurity is a big issue in all First Nations. So money is an issue. So to get traditional food, they are going to take the cheapest way possible to get traditional food,’ said Paul Linton, with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. (Submitted by Fred Tomatuk)

Linton says they’re also working with the Cree Trappers Association on how to get information to hunters about making the shift from heritage guns, which are passed down from generation-to-generation and can’t handle steel shot bullets.

“My whole family is using steel now,” said Fred Tomatuk, vice president of the Cree Trappers Association.

“We don’t see a reduction in production and also we are very cautious about the health issues surrounding [lead].”

Linton says the biggest obstacle remains the attitude of the federal government.

“At one point the federal government had enough brains to realize that lead shouldn’t be in paint any more,” he said.

“At one time they had enough brains to realize it shouldn’t be in solder in the water systems. And then they had enough brains to figure out it shouldn’t be in leaded gas, but yet they haven’t figured out that lead poisoning comes through hunting, and is detrimental to the First Nations.”

Linton said the working group is also starting a letter writing campaign to put pressure on the federal government to “get their act together” and put in place a complete ban on the sale and importation of lead shells.

Cree lead poisoning poster

The campaign includes posters in the communities and outreach to local hunting supply stores in the region to convince them to at least carry steel shot bullets, which is not always the case right now. (T.Philiptchenko/CBHSSJB)

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Cree health officials urge hunters to switch to steel bullets, abandon lead

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