Outfitter leaves clients howling for their money
Quebec Inuit land claim business takes nearly $1 million from sports hunters, then goes belly-up
KUUJJUAQ — Tuttulik, an Inuit-owned outfitting firm based in Umiujaq, has dealt a serious blow to the reputation of Nunavik’s annual caribou sports hunt.
Tuttulik suddenly ceased operations in September of 2008, depriving nearly 300 clients from the United States of the one-week hunting trips for which they paid up to $5,000 US in advance.
The hunters, who never got their money back, have now taken to the internet, where their furious complaints are posted on hunting and fishing forums, outdoor magazine websites, and small-town newspapers websites across North America.
“This has happened before in Quebec and undoubtedly will happen again. Save your money and hunt in the good old U.S.A,” counsels a post from a Tuttulik client on the wildoutdoors.com website.
Nunavik’s caribou sports hunt brings in about $15 to $20 million a year in revenues.
In the fall of 2008, many Tuttulik clients had already packed their bags for Montreal when they received a terse message telling them their caribou hunting “trip of a lifetime” was cancelled because Tuttulik is no longer in business. They’re still waiting to get their money back.
Hunters who paid in advance for trips in 2009 or 2010 were also left high and dry.
One of them, consultant Roy Goodwin of Hopedale, Massachussets, has created a website to air his grievances and post information to help the other hunters: caribouhuntingripoff.com.
“The Quebec tourism bureau runs an ad in the back of most hunting magazines that reads, “Let our outfitters take you on a hunting trip of a lifetime. Inuit hospitality, daily jet service, trophy caribou, two animals per hunter, hunting and fishing trips.” Well, if you want to hunt in Quebec you should certainly beware, “ Goodwin said.
Goodwin, an expert bowhunter, also books trips for other hunters and had booked several clients with Tuttulik. He now represents the 280 angry hunters who want Tuttulik to give them their money back.
Tuttulik is owned by Umiujaq’s Aaniturlik Landholding Corp., which handles lands and compensation funds for the Inuit of Umiujaq.
Its financial and legal affairs are largely handled by Makivik Corp.
It’s not clear why Tuttulik abruptly suspended operations on Sept. 4, 2008, canceling contracts signed by 168 hunters.
About another 100 hunters had also plunked down money for 2009 and even 2010, bringing the total value of unpaid obligations to at least $1 million.
Goodwin says he believes Tuttulik applied for a bridge loan to pay their upfront costs for 2008, but didn’t get it.
“The loan didn’t go through, leaving them without the funds to pay for air charter services, which in turn shut them down against their will. While this was poor business, it wasn’t fraud,” Goodwin says.
But since then, Tuttulik hasn’t sought bankruptcy protection, but hasn’t returned any money to its clients either.
To save its investment Tuttulik should offer “alternate replacement” hunts, according to the terms of the contracts they signed with 280 people, Goodwin says.
‘They then need to get these people up there and provide a great hunt experience in order to rebuild their reputation so they can go forward.”
Goodwin has been trying to get some form of compensation or satisfaction for the hunters. He’s written to outfitters associations, Tourism Quebec, the RCMP, the FBI and Makivik Corp..
“Makivik Corp. has lots of money, and a mandate to help Inuit business, but no requirement to give it or loan it to Umiujaq/Tuttulik. We are trying to convince them that it would be in the best interests of the community and all Inuit hunting operations in the North to help resolve this situation,” Goodwin says on his website.
Makivik lawyers replied to some clients in the past, he says, “which would lead everyone to think they have some direct involvement.”
But nothing has materialized.
The RCMP’s commercial crime division told Goodwin last spring that its analysts are studying the Tuttulik case closely, but in an email message to the Nunatsiaq News, Cpl. Tim Caron, the RCMP’s complaint management co-ordinator, said there would be no criminal charges brought against Tuttulik.
On his web site, Goodwin doesn’t rule out a class action lawsuit against the company, but admits this might be too expensive and hard to carry through from afar.
Meanwhile, other caribou hunting outfitters, who are bonded and can offer protection to their clients, are fighting to keep their numbers up.
Safari Nordik is Nunavik’s largest outfitter and the 2008 winner of Quebec’s top tourism award for outfitters.
It’s slashed prices by $1,000 for one-week trips booked ahead for 2010 and is allowing potential clients to pay for trips on a monthly basis.
Arctic Adventures, which has been operating under Nunavik’s co-operative federation, La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau Québec for nearly 40 years, has reduced the number of camps that it operates in an effort to boost efficiency and capacity.
“The plane isn’t shooting towards the ground as far as the economy is concerned,” said Steve Ashton of Arctic Adventures. “If this is the worst, it’s not going to be a disaster.”
But 2010 may be a harder year.
Outfitters say the hunters’ poor experience with Tuttulik hasn’t yet affected their business, but bad publicity for hunting in Nunavik could turn out to be an extra burden in tough economic times.
Many caribou hunting clients who are now in Nunavik prepaid their 2009 trips before the stock market crashed and companies started to lay off thousands of workers.
Many may choose not to spend money on caribou hunting in Nunavik in 2010.
The numbers of hunters coming to Nunavik to hunt is already down from a high of about 5,000 to fewer than 3,000 in 2009, a nosedive that began after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 made many Americans more reluctant to travel abroad.