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Artists paint picture of plight as exhibit comes full circle

Garrah said that her hope for the Tuktu Prayers exhibit is that it will educate people further as to the plight of the caribou.

“Nothing speaks like the power of an image,” Garrah said. 

Powerful images these are indeed. The exhibit displays the impressive artistic talents of 32 artists — 44 pieces in total — depicting everything from abstract renditions of caribou-inspired water colours, to acrylics, oils, and sculptures of the same nature. Haunting pencil-drawn pictures eerily remind their audience of the chilling fate that awaits the caribou if action isn’t taken to prevent their extirpation.

One artist who has contributed a painting to Tuktu Prayers put it very succinctly in her write-up on the exhibit’s brochure: “Simply ironic that presently the numbers of Woodland Caribou and Mountain Caribou in Jasper each represented by a quarter coin, would equal about $32.50,” wrote Joane Cardinal-Schubert.

Layla Neufeld, caribou project biologist with Parks Canada, knows better than most what caribou are dealing with in their fight for survival. She and her team monitor closely the four herds in Jasper National Park, in hopes of understanding caribou patterns to ensure their survival.

“Jasper has overall been stable in recent years, but has seen historic decline,” Neufeld said. Between the four herds, Neufeld said JNP has about 300 animals: The A La Peche herd has about 150 to 175 caribou; the Tonquin herd had 87 animals at its last count; the Brazeau herd had about 25; and the Maligne herd had the lowest count at 15.

According to a Parks Canada Caribou Recovery document, potential causes of the decline of caribou population might include “lack of high quality habitat, disturbance by people, increased numbers of predators, climate change, and increased wolf populations since the 1960s … combined with better wolf access to winter caribou range on ploughed roads and packed ski trails.”

Neufeld said that there are numerous actions people can take to reduce their impact on caribou herds.

Choosing options for recreation outdoors that doesn’t interfere with caribou habitat is the best way. Education and awareness are also important, which goes back to the very reason for Garrah’s caribou exhibit, Tuktu Prayers. 

“The prayer is that there will be caribou for the next 100 years,” Garrah said. 

“We have the policies — we need a body in power to facilitate and uphold those policies.

“If that were being done, this exhibit would not exist.”

Look for the Tuktu Prayers exhibit when it opens this Centennial weekend at the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives.

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