Northern Ontario fishing dispute could lead to big changes for Indigenous rights

Hunters and Gatherers is series looking at hunting and fishing in northern Ontario, how Indigenous rights can divide people, how some northerners find ways to share the resources and what sharing the land means for reconciliation.

A case making its way through the courts in northern Ontario could have big implications for Indigenous people across Canada.

Commercial fishermen from Nipissing First Nation, on the shores of Lake Nipissing not far from the city of North Bay, are challenging their chief and council’s decision to limit how much they can fish.

Eight of them have been charged by the Ministry of Natural Resources under the memorandum of understanding the provincial government signed with the First Nation two years ago.

This agreement sees the two governments patrolling and managing fishing on Lake Nipissing together and it means any First Nations fishermen who do not follow the rules and regulations set out by chief and council — which now include a fishing season for the first time — can be turned over to the ministry to face provincial charges.

“How do you kill an Indian? Take away his rights, that’s a good start.” says Nipissing commercial fisherman Lorne Stevens who hasn’t been charged, but is part of the group who hired a lawyer to fight for their rights,

“Next thing you know, the reserve is telling who can fish and who can’t fish. You’re a good Indian and you can fish and you’re a bad Indian, you can’t fish.”

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod wouldn’t comment specifically on the cases before the courts, but he says some of the opposition in his community of 1,450 comes down to Indigenous people spending a lifetime fighting governments, even if it is their own.

“And now we’re making rules here and there’s still that muscle memory of fighting rules,” he says.

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