“I don’t think the government is aware of who we are. When trapping season is over, trappers continue to go to the land. There is a relationship you have with the land and the animals.” —Elder Albert Yellowknee.
By Shari Narine
BIGSTONE CREE NATION, Alta.
There has been a backlash against a memorandum of understanding signed last week between the province and the Treaty 8 Trappers Association about the organization’s planned take-over of the management of Indigenous traplines in Treaty 8 traditional territory.
“Guys, this looks real serious for trappers,” posted Big Grey Wolf on an online outdoorsmen forum. “…appears All RFMA's (Registered Fur Management Areas) north of the Athabasca River will now be offered to non Canadians first, rest of us can go to back of the line.”
“’To non Canadians?” said Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan, clearly surprised.
A post from someone called Wolftrapper read, “This could be real bad. Unless I'm reading it wrong or not understanding it. We will lose our lines over time.”
Some posting comments noted the significant size of the territory in question, and shared a vareity of maps.
Someone who posted under the name Whiskeywillow wrote, “For the (few) Treaty guys that are active and actually operating lines, great, but it sure doesn't help anything related to those lines in that big zone that have fallen into non-use and… out of hands of [someone] who actually wants to operate but can't... and now likely never will be able to.”
Feehan acknowledged that the MOU might make some trappers “nervous.”
“I hope, as they see this roll out, they simply understand it as a choice of groups that they (would) want to belong to and not somehow removing choices from one group in order to give them to another,” said Feehan.
Membership to the Treaty 8 Trappers Association, formed about four years ago, is open to all trappers in Alberta, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and is voluntary. The Treaty 8 Trappers Association will operate alongside the Alberta Trappers’ Association.
According to the MOU, when a Treaty 8 member’s trapline is vacated, the Treaty 8 Trappers Association will be given the first right of refusal. The association will also be notified when a non-member’s trapline is vacated.
“Now if there are members of the association who are not Indigenous, they’re eligible for empty traplines as well,” said Feehan. “So (the MOU) doesn’t exclusively ensure Indigenous peoples will get traplines but it does make sure that anybody who belongs to the organization doesn’t lose a trapline because accidental death or illness has prevented them from trapping.”
But having the Treaty 8 Trappers Association membership open to non-Indigenous trappers, who will also have first access to vacated traplines, is a concern for Darrell Anderson, who continues to work the trapline that was issued by the province to his great grandfather back in 1930.
Anderson, a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation, says he would rather see vacated traplines in Treaty 8 go first to First Nations and Métis people in the area where the vacated trapline is located, then to other First Nations and Métis trappers residing in the Treaty 8 area “before opening it up to other treaty areas let alone other Alberta trappers across the region.”
Otherwise, Anderson is pleased with the MOU, noting that money has been given to help with educating youth on the land, something that is dear to Anderson. He serves as community education engagement coordinator for the band and Northland School Division schools in Wabasca-Desmarais.
The Treaty 8 Trappers Association is receiving $275,000 from the province, with $45,000 to go toward trapper youth training sessions.
The MOU also calls for the government and the Treaty 8 Trappers Association to work collaboratively to develop harvesting and sustainability regulations. That’s a move that pleases Bigstone Cree Elder Albert Yellowknee.
“I don’t think the government is aware of who we are. When trapping season is over, trappers continue to go to the land. There is a relationship you have with the land and the animals,” said Yellowknee, who is working a trapline that was worked before by his great grandfather, grandfather and father.
“A trapper is not only a trapper, going after the fur bearer animals. A trapper is an environmentalist, a water specialist, everything that’s on the land,” he said.
“A lot of times (the trapline has) been in the family, and younger generations continue to go to the trapline whether they continue to hunt, trap or fish in that trapline area. They always use it as it’s almost a second home, to get away from their little community to do their fishing and trapping in the fall or whenever it might be,” said Anderson.
Mike Beaver, president of the Treaty 8 Trappers Association, said the MOU opens doors that could lead to better compensation for trappers who are losing their lines to industrial development; the creation of a depot in Treaty 8 area for trappers to ship their furs from; more options for markets for trappers, targeting First Nation communities across the country; and the possibility of a tannery in the Treaty 8 area for a value-added product.
Beaver will be promoting the Treaty 8 Trappers Association to Treaty 8 nations in Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
“It’s entirely up to them if they want to join us. That will be even better. We’ll be a strong group. There’s about 40 First Nations throughout all of Treaty 8. With a bigger group comes a bigger voice,” said Beaver.
The MOU is one more step toward self-government as Indigenous trappers take charge of their traplines, said Beaver.
Feehan said the MOU is just another step taken by the provincial NDP government in response to the principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“We’re trying to respect the fact that trapping is part of culture and that it has many values simply beyond the acquisition of furs for sale. We are trying to ensure that Indigenous people can choose this as an option for declaration of their culture, to declaration of lands that are important, and to establish traditions within their communities,” said Feehan.