Facebook comments from a Yellowknife Catholic Schools employee, calling some caribou hunters ‘animals’, have set off a fierce exchange of views online.

David Radcliffe made the comments in reference to hunters from the Tłı̨chǫ region killing caribou in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

His posts were shared on the Dene Nation Facebook page, where they were angrily criticized.

Radcliffe – the husband of former NWT politician Sandy Lee, employed by Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS) as its Aboriginal program activities coordinator – later apologized and sought to clarify his comments.

YCS asked for time to “make sure we have all the information we need” before commenting in any detail on the issue.

“These f—ers are killing off an entire species,” Radcliffe initially wrote on Facebook. “Your kids will never see a caribou and all because they are killing them because they think it’s their right to.”

In a separate post, he added: “As we speak, plane loads of hunters and sixteen snowmobiles from the Tłı̨chǫ region are … killing what is left of the caribou herd.

David Radcliffe

David Radcliffe

“There is a hunting ban implemented by the GNWT and subsistence hunters are only allowed to harvest for ceremonial purposes. This slaughter today is just the start of what will be the end of an entire species.

“These animals should be ashamed of themselves. They call themselves the keepers of the land, well this just goes to show that they keep only what they can get no matter the cost.”

The comments were shared to the Dene Nation’s Facebook page by Iris Catholique, a human resources manager and education training officer at the Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation.

On Facebook: Iris Catholique shares David Radcliffe’s comments with the Dene Nation (note: the Dene Nation appeared to have deleted the link from its page as of Tuesday, March 24)

Catholique uploaded a video of the hunters arriving, to which she says Radcliffe responded with comments she found insulting.

“That’s when this guy went on my Facebook and started ranting and raving,” she told Moose FM.

“He basically referred to all Aboriginal people that hunt and harvest caribou as animals. So yeah, I took offence to it.

“He used some very derogatory language. I decided it needed to be seen by other native people, so I posted it to the Dene Nation page.”

Catholique admitted her decision to share Radcliffe’s comments had received “quite a bit of reaction”.

Iris Catholique

Iris Catholique

She said: “There are pros and cons. The debate is good. However, I think a lot more people need to be educated on the caribou issue.

“I’m still shocked and kind-of disgusted with some of the points of view of people that live in the North. Not only that, but people that have – I guess you would say power, or influence. I’m shocked to see that kind of mentality is still floating around out there.

“To put it bluntly, I don’t care who you are, you don’t have the right to be calling Dene people animals and all of these negative things.”

Read: The NWT’s caribou management strategy

Speaking to Moose FM after his comments had been publicized, Radcliffe read out a prepared statement that he also posted online.

“Thanks to those of you who stood beside me and know I meant no harm, knowing my passion for the NWT environment,” he said.

“I must apologize to anyone who felt hurt or insulted by my comments. I assure you that was never the intent.

“I feel strongly about the caribou herd and the status they are facing. My comments are directed only at those who would hunt down the last of the caribou.

“My comments were never intended to be directed at any race, and were never meant to hurt or racially offend anyone.

“To those of you who chose to make comments that were hurtful and directed at my family, you should be ashamed.”

Moose FM understands Radcliffe has not been suspended by YCS, according to one source with knowledge of the situation, but acting superintendent John Bowden was unable to confirm its decision.

“We’re not directly involved with this at this point,” Bowden told Moose FM. “I’m not in a position, nor am I willing, to discuss individual employees. They have a right to privacy and that’s the direction we are taking in this matter.

“We believe any of the statements made through social media do not reflect or represent the views of Yellowknife Catholic Schools.

“Our district has always had a longstanding and very positive relationship with the Aboriginal community.”

Catholique insisted that the content of Radcliffe’s comments, regardless of any racist intent, was misleading.

“What are people ignorant about? For one thing, there’s a process to [caribou hunting]. One First Nation communicates to the other First Nation that they’re going to go and harvest, specifically because there isn’t enough caribou in the region,” she said when Moose FM reached her at her home.

“And the GNWT has a caribou ban on one herd in the North Slave, so the people there can’t hunt. They have to come over here, where the numbers are healthy, to get their quota.

“We, as Dene people, already know there is an issue with the caribou decline. We do not need to be reminded by ignorant people coming to us and telling us we don’t know what we’re doing, making us feel like we’re lesser than them and they’re better than us.

“We’ve harvested caribou for thousands of years and we’re going to continue to do so. That’s not going to change.”

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus was on vacation and could not be reached.

In a Facebook post it later amended, the Dene Nation said Radcliffe’s comments were “not good”.