Understanding the Misunderstanding: First Nations Traditional Rights


Eva Jagt

Over the years, while much has changed, one can agree without hesitation that providing for ones’ family hasn’t faltered.

The controversy regarding First Nations’ rights to provide for their families has become a much more sensitive subject, but why? As a part of Canadian history that predates many people who are here now, why do we insist on arguing with traditional rights?

I met with Treaty 8 First Nations’ member Cheyenne Sequoia to help clear up some of the stigma around First Nations’ hunting rights.

Thank you for meeting to discuss this. It’s an important subject and I’d like to raise awareness. What is treaty land?

Signed in 1899, the treaty lasts as long as the sun shines, grass grows and the river flows. There’s different treaties all through Canada—numbered one to eleven. Treaty 8 is all of Northeastern British Columbia, up to the Yukon Border, down to Summit Lake in the Pine Pass, extends into Northern Alberta, Northern Saskatchewan and Southern Northwest Territories, a total area of 840,000 square kilometres.

Why does it exist?

The treaty was created to help with development in Canada—specifically Crown land reservations. Signed by the Queen, it’s a relation between the native people and their way of life, and the government of Canada.  It allowed Canada to expand while protecting First Nations’ rights.

What’s the difference between First Nations’ hunting and fishing rights, and the laws and regulations for everyone else?

The way the First Nations’ hunt is ceremonial, for food purposes only. That being said, ultimately the rules of conservation still apply if an endangered species exists. We work with it. The rules for bag limits is for conservation purposes, so we don’t wipe out a species.

Do First Nations’ hunters have bag limits?

No, but we’re taught at a young age to only take what you need. Basically, with that being said, nothing goes to waste. You take what your family eats. Once the freezer is full, hunting season is over.

What kind of traditions do you have and use when you’re hunting?

There are many traditions. First and foremost, you don’t pack meat when you’re hunting – it’s bad luck. Upon harvesting an animal, I cut the bottom of the heart off and offer tobacco, and I hang the bottom of the heart in a willow bush or a tree, as a blessing to the grandfathers.

What do these traditions mean to you personally?

It’s a gift to the grandfathers—to my granddad and everyone involved teaching me as a young boy how to hunt and to only take what you need.

How have traditions changed?

Traditions have been lost over the years. Lots of traditions don’t exist anymore. The native tongue was banned upon being spoken due to the residential schools, so lots of traditions were simply lost. We are trying to gain the traditions back by talking with the elders, but even then, some have just forgotten.

Do you personally think that it’s important for your generation and future generations to maintain and restore these traditions?

It’s an important factor teaching the young hunters and the growing hunters in doing the right thing. The big thing is to just take what you need. If you don’t need something, don’t shoot the animal. If you don’t eat the fish, put the fish back. Everyone enjoys the outdoors. But I don’t know if these traditions will ever come back to what it was. Things were lost and forgotten by many generations.

Do you think it’s possible that these traditions could be partially restored?

We have to be working together, talking with elders, learning. They are in the process of being restored. The band that I belong to offers courses and have elders showing the young. Unfortunately, the young generations are more interested in the iPads and computers than they are tanning a hide and learning the history.

Are your treaty rights valid everywhere or just in your specific treaty area?

Just in my traditional area, Treaty 8. Hunting out of my traditional area, I have to buy my regulations and open seasons, exactly like everybody else.

What do you think about everyone being able to hunt year round if they’re providing for their families?

The way I believe is: you need it, you eat it; you shoot it, you take it. It’s a touchy subject for me, I understand the need for other people to eat, but it goes back to conservation in the end. We have to make sure that these animals last for the future. With how big the whole population is, I don’t think the wildlife would support the population if it was year round.

Why is the subject of First Nations’ hunting and fishing rights so controversial?

The big thing is that people don’t understand. They feel that natives will go out and shoot 30 deer a year. Maybe there are a few bad apples out there, but with every race there are a few bad apples. The thoughts of someone being able to hunt year round—they’re going to shoot babies, pregnant animals.

The misunderstanding where people feel like just because we can hunt year round, means we go and kill 30 moose a year. That’s not the case, it’s strictly take what you need. We’re taught to take what we need and to only hunt during certain times of year. A big thing is the negative, angry mentality that we can hunt and kill whatever, whenever. It’s a lack of communication and a lack of understanding. We don’t kill the animals that are perfect for breeding, we are trying to help with re-population as well as taking care of our family.

Are the laws on poaching the same for First Nations’ as they are for everyone else?

I guess poaching would be no different to anyone else if something was shot and left. I believe it shouldn’t be handled any differently to any other case. Private property is off limits to natives. We stick strictly to Crown land.

Is there anything that needs to change regarding animal conservation?

We have to work together. Moose population is on a huge decline in the Peace Region; wolf population is on the rise. In order for the province of BC to make changes, we have to make changes. The province of BC and the First Nations’ communities need to work together. Limit to one moose a year and report our kills. Shorter hunting seasons. We get a lot of hunters from out of town, and that’s hard on the animal populations too. We need to work together and get along. We all love to hunt, we have to stop pointing the finger and all get along. We can all work together.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Misunderstanding and the lack of communication is our big thing now. I think we’re at the day and age and we’re all educated enough that we can all talk and come up with an answer where our children and their children can chase moose around the bush.

Thank you to Cheyenne Sequoia for taking the time to meet for an interview and to discuss such a sensitive topic.