While it’s no secret that fresh hunted meat is about the healthiest thing Crees can eat, lead shot can cause some rather serious health problems, according to the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. Thankfully, there are new ammunition alternatives.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Robinson at the CBHSSJB, the Health Board started tracking the lead issue back in the 1990s, first checking if the elevated lead levels in the blood of Crees in certain communities was coming from water or soil.
“The levels we are seeing in Eeyou Istchee may contribute to high blood pressure in adults and can cause learning difficulties and behavioral problems in children,” said Robinson.
“In one coastal community, half of people aged 40 and over and one third of those aged 15 to 39 have levels above Health Canada’s guidelines. We first became aware of a number of people with high lead levels in the 1990s in one community.”
Eventually it was determined that lead shot was responsible for the elevated levels of lead in their blood samples.
According to Robinson, between 2002-2009 the Health Board tested between 100 and 250 people in each Cree community to check for lead levels and it was confirmed that one community they had known about since the 1990s had the highest levels of lead, but that people were also being affected in other communities.
“The Cree Health Board has participated in several studies on blood lead levels of Eeyouch individuals living in Eeyou Istchee and has found elevated blood lead levels. The highest blood lead levels can be found in men who are hunters,” explained Robinson.
Once it was determined that lead shot was the culprit for the higher lead levels within the Cree population, the CBHSSJB took action to ensure that people didn’t suddenly stop eating wild meat by informing them how to handle game killed with lead shot.
“It is safe to hunt and eat game that was killed using lead. Game meats are very healthy for adults and children, and hunting is great exercise. But it’s important to take precautions handling and butchering meat killed with lead ammunition: when you butcher big game, discard the meat within four inches of the wound channel. For game killed with lead shot, give children and pregnant women parts that are far away from the pellets,” said Robinson.
It is also important for hunters to take their own precautions because whether they use a shotgun or a rifle, as the shot is fired, hunters usually inhale some of the smoke from the gun and this allows lead entry into the body.