For the past several years I have watched as First Nations people, in
Nova Scotia and here, have fought various battles to reclaim treaty rights
to hunt, fish, and harvest timber from Crown Lands. I haven't always agreed
with their arguments, but for the most part, I believed, and continue to
do so, that they had legitimate claims to rights to harvesting from the
natural world in order to make " a moderate living", or to provide for
basic family and ritual needs.
I have also been sympathetic, indeed very receptive, to proclamations
from Native leaders that they are true conversationalists, and that their
traditional philosophy invokes the principle of the wise and prudent uses
of "Mother Nature's Gifts". Unfortunately, of late, I have had to come to
the conclusion that, all too often, Native leaders and other spokespersons
are as capable of duplicity as are so many others in the "White Man's
Back in September, at the time of the annual moose hunt, Department of
Natural Resources statistics indicated that the moose population in New
Brunswick had declined by some twenty percent over the preceding three or
four years. This is an alarming trend and one that, if allowed to
continue, will mean that the moose herd in the province will be reduced to
a remnant population within the next fifteen or twenty years. DNR
spokespersons were suggesting that the hunt may well have to be curtailed
in order to prevent this from happening. I am not aware that non-native
hunters had much to say about the situation, but Native leaders certainly
did. this was, so the argument went, nothing more than another deception
to try to prevent native hunters from there "traditional, treaty granted
rights". One prominent spokesperson claimed, on CBC Radio, that "every
native family in New Brunswick had the right to shoot four moose" and when
it was pointed out to him that that meant over 60 000 moose, or about
twice the total population of the entire herd, he merely laughed and
agreed. In other words, some native spokespersons have the idea that it is
their inherent right to extirpate moose.
Recently, another fishing flare-up has occurred over 'traditional"
rights to fish Salmon and Striped Bass in and around the Tabunsintac River
(as I remember). Populations of both species are at critical lows, which
means that the loss of individual fish is serious business, yet
spokespersons, once again claiming "traditional" rights, have chosen to
ignore the plight and fish as they wish.
Attitudes such as this, whether they are found in the Native or
non-native community, are irresponsible and morally reprehensible. No
treaty exists that gives that right to anyone; if there were, it would, by
definition, be indefensible.
Native people have gained a great deal of sympathy, respect, and legal
legitimacy for many of their arguments concerning natural resources over
the past few years. They stand to lose all that they have gained if they
lose sight of a fundamental principle that governs the granting of all
rights: having the right also demands accepting the responsibility to use
it wisely and well - for everyone.
This article appeared in the Campbellton Tribune, in Mike's "Grains of Sand" column.
It is reproduced with Mike's permission.