The responsibility to hunt and fish

Indigenous people across Canada are not unfamiliar with violations against their hunting and fishing rights.

In early January, Saskatchewan authorities raided a home on the Pine Creek First Nation and seized what they called ‘contraband’ moose meat. Another violation of indigenous rights happened in Minnesota where four Ojibwe were charged with illegal fishing and harvesting of wild rice.

For Canadians who are not familiar with the inherent rights of indigenous people, it can seem like they are getting preferential treatment when it comes to hunting and fishing, even calling it unfair.

That is the question that needs to be asked — is it unfair?

These rights need to be looked at from two different perspectives — the position of the Canadian Colony and/or the position of the Onkwehon:we people, who are native to North America.

In several of the cases where non-indigenous people are unfamiliar with the longstanding hunting rights of indigenous people, it’s safe to say that they simply did not know that they existed. They grew up following the hunting rules and regulations that were presented to them by the government in the same way that indigenous people follow what was taught to them in their teachings.

The province of Ontario is covered by 46 treaties arranged from 1781 to 1930 according to a government Canada website.

The British North America Act, presented in 1930, says that indigenous people “have the right, which the Province hereby assures to them, of hunting, trapping and fishing game and fish for food at all seasons of the year on all unoccupied Crown lands and on any other lands to which (they) may have a right of access.”

Treaty and Aboriginal rights relating to hunting, fishing and gathering are also recognized and affirmed as part of the Constitution of Canada by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

It has been argued in Canadian courts that Onkwehon:we and indigenous people were here thousands of years before Canada and the United States were formed. This would allow indigenous people to continue their ancient right of hunting and fishing for personal or commercial use.

But then the question becomes this — is hunting a right or a responsibility? And what right does the Canadian government have to make that decision?

Certain elders of the Onkwehon:we people have said that they do not have rights because rights come from the Queen – and she can take them back. The teachings of the Onkwehon:we, say that they were given the responsibility to hunt from the Creator and these responsibilities cannot be taken away.

This responsibility has passed down through countless generations of hunters and anglers who have maintained balance in nature and provided sustenance for their families in the same way that a parent teaches language to a child — it’s a part of who they are.

The well-known spear fisherman Shawn Brant of Tyendinaga, once told the Two Row Times that “Mohawks can hunt anywhere at any time if they are hungry.” Even the pigeons of downtown Toronto are fair game according to Brant.

While there are many treaties that validate the hunting and fishing practices of the Onkwehon:we, none are as important as the Dish With One Spoon Treaty.

Indigenous people did not invent treaties just as an attempt to live in peace with the Europeans. There are numerous pre-contact treaties that still exist to this day and form the fabric of law in this land. One example is the Dish With One Spoon Treaty:

The Dish With One Spoon Treaty stretches as far back to the origins of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Great Peace itself. As Joyce Tekahnawiiaks King wrote,

“The Peacemaker demonstrated the One Dish/One Spoon principle in an analogy to the 50 Haudenosaunee Roianeson (translated in the English equivalent as chiefs, pronounced low-yaw-neh-soo). Once the Five Nations agreed to unite, the Roianeson sat in a circle to listen to the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker expressed this principle by passing around a bowl of beaver tail, a delicacy among the People of the Longhouse. As the leaders sat in this circle of 50, the Roianeson took only what they needed, knowing the bowl had to complete its circle. The One Dish demonstrated the collective responsibility of the people to share equally. The spoon revealed an additional symbol lesson here: to avoid a sharp instrument, such as a knife, at a gathering of the people, because knives could cause the spilling of blood. Therefore employing sharp instruments or even sharp words was prohibited.”

This treaty was more than just a contractual agreement. It was a living ethos of conduct to share the land and to share the wild game. It was also offered to the Anishinabek and such other nations.

This treaty still exists today and affects all hunters — including Canadian ones — who are enjoying their right to hunt and fish here in the Dish With One Spoon which some call Ontario.

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