Respecting treaty rights
By Tamara Spence, Sports and Recreation Editor
When it comes to understanding treaty rights, there will be no cooperation without effort from both sides. The historical “white man’s burden” of educating the godless heathens has ironically turned to become a burden on Indigenous people to help the descendants of colonizers become less ignorant through exposure and education around the meaning of these far too often neglected treaties.
Outdoor experiences are understandably different for Indigenous people than some of their non-Indigenous peers. Exercising treaty rights are often a sensitive issue, especially having to explain them to individuals while in the field. Generally there is a mentality that every Indigenous person has 3 moose, 45 fish, 32 partridge, 5 deer and 15 rabbits in their 5 freezers at home. While the idea of having an infinite supply of sustenance is a great picture to paint, it’s far from accurate and is extremely ill-informed. The gaps in education are apparent and Canadian institutions are providing room for the growth of misunderstandings of how treaty rights work and why they should be respected.
Indigenous people should never feel ashamed or uncomfortable about asserting their right to harvest an animal or fish for consumption within their treaty area. However, it’s not an uncommon occurrence in many Indigenous people’s lives to be met with undeserving hostility and remarks from individuals, nor is it unheard of to be hassled by The Ministry of Natural Resources while doing so.
Historically, Indigenous people have a deeply rooted relationship with the land based on respect for all elements and wildlife that roam the land; this remains unchanged. The Robinson Superior treaty (where Thunder Bay resides), is one of the first Canadian treaties to explicitly protect fishing and hunting rights for Indigenous peoples stating: “On behalf of Her Majesty and the Government of this Province, hereby promises and agrees to make the payments as before mentioned; and further to allow the said chiefs and their tribes the full and free privilege to hunt over the territory now ceded by them, and to fish in the waters thereof as they have heretofore been in the habit of doing, saving and excepting only such portions of the said territory as may from time to time be sold or leased to individuals, or companies of individuals, and occupied by them with the consent of the Provincial Government”. It is inarguably clear that Indigenous peoples are within their rights to practice harvesting for consumption.
Multiple factors play into the ongoing tension and conflict among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people: racist media portrayals, ignorant greed, prolific gaps in our education system, and pitiful attempts at camouflaging Canada’s genocide. None of these issues can even begin to be addressed without understanding the treaties and the unfulfilled promises that came with them. Not only do Indigenous people have the right to harvesting but arguably have a responsibility to practice and promote this lifestyle before yet another part of Indigenous culture is killed off.