Native Exclusion From Hunting and Fishing Panel a ‘Hard Pill to Swallow’: First Nations

Published in Indian Country Today Media Network | July 17, 2012 | Circulation: 300,000 unique monthly readers

Shoon Keewatin, a fisherman and founder of the Trappers’ Centre in Grassy Narrows First Nation, near Kenora, Ontario. Photo by David P. Ball

In the wake of Bill C-38′s budgetary gutting of the environmental review process, indigenous fisheries experts in Canada are decrying their exclusion from a new federal panel for anglers and hunters.

Speaking at a June 22 ceremony to pray for the return of salmon—whose populations have been in free fall over the past several decades—one fisheries manager called the marginalization of aboriginal voices unacceptable.

“That’s a hard pill to swallow, because there are already no aboriginal people within the management decision levels of government,” said Tracy Wimbush, a fisheries manager with the Nicola Tribal Association, near Merritt, British Columbia. “That’s what we are fighting for: a true co-management of our resource. It’s really important to have our voice out there, because we have a holistic stewardship approach for our resources. We need to have that recognized in the government panels.”

But the federal environment minister denied he is silencing indigenous voices, saying they have already been adequately consulted.

“The hunting and fishing advisory panel was struck to create a dialogue with this important segment of the population who have previously been under-consulted, and to address issues with hunters and anglers who are regulated by permits and licenses,” wrote Peter Kent in an e-mail to ICTMN. “First Nations have constitutional rights to hunt and fish, and are routinely engaged in consultations on a wide array of subjects including hunting, fishing and conservation.”

But the executive director of the First Nations Fisheries Council, Jordan Point, said that combined with Bill C-38, the now-passed budget, the lack of inclusion on the panel will make it even harder to protect Canada’s endangered fisheries.

“It’s very difficult … with this Conservative government really controlling the message,” Point said. “We need more collaboration and transparency so people can work together. This whole C-38 stuff really affects the environment. With a majority, there’s not much you can do about it.”

With sockeye salmon stocks predicted to be as low as 1.3 million this year, analysts predict that only an aboriginal fishery will be allowed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), which is bound by court decisions to allow First Nations to fish for sustenance, social and ceremonial purposes.

Such decisions have in the past led to major conflicts and lawsuits with non-aboriginal fishermen.

“I just think it’s scandalous that we have this two-tier fishery in this country in this day and age,” said John Cummins, leader of the British Columbia Conservative Party. “Now they’re allowing Natives to fish for food, subsistence and social and ceremonial purposes. That’s how they’re going to justify allowing the Natives to fish this year, and not enforcing the law.”

Fisheries are important to many First Nations across Canada, not only because of culture and way of life, but also for nutrition.

“One of the things that we eat, mainly, is our fish,” said Shoon Keewatin, a fisherman and trapper in Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation. “People say that fish is very good for your health. There’s a lot of things the fish can eat that we cannot, so we get that good stuff through the fish.”

The DFO insisted it also consults First Nations and other stakeholders for fisheries decisions.

“We’ve had discussions with all harvesters,” said Les Jantz, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ acting area director for B.C.’s Interior. “The department has the ultimate decision-making. Through the Fraser Panel, there are discussions with the participants. There’s representatives from all sectors, including First Nations.”

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