Minister defends consultations for fishery strategy

Wally Schumann, the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, holds a copy of the revitalization strategy for the commercial fishery on Great Slave Lake at its release on Feb. 27.

The GNWT is defending its consultation efforts in advance of the Feb. 27 release of a revitalization strategy for the commercial fishery on Great Slave Lake in the face of criticism from many First Nations.

In the legislative assembly on March 6, Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann noted the fishing strategy had its origins in 2012 with the Economic Opportunities Strategy during the last assembly.

“Going around and across the Northwest Territories, with engagement with all aboriginal leaders across the Northwest Territories and the citizens of the Northwest Territories, it was identified that, specifically, there was a need to revitalize the fishing strategy for Great Slave Lake,” said Schumann. “With that, moving forward, there were a number of meetings held in all the regions across the Northwest Territories.”

The minister also noted there were three meetings with the Great Slave Lake Advisory Committee, which has representatives of all the groups involved in the lake’s fishing industry, including the Tlicho, the Dehcho, the Akaitcho, the Northwest Territory Metis Nation, sports fishers, lodge owners and government departments.

However, First Nations around the lake have taken a united stand claiming there was insufficient consultation.

“This strategy was developed without meaningful prior consultation with the First Nations that are the rights holders with respect to the Great Slave Lake fisheries and therefore does not reflect First Nations’ rights or interests,” reads a statement signed by the chiefs of five First Nations and National Chief Bill Erasmus of the Dene Nation following a meeting on the Hay River Reserve on Feb. 28 and March 1. “It is astonishing that the GNWT would develop a commercial fishing strategy encompassing Great Slave Lake without the direct and meaningful engagement of the First Nations governments around the lake. These First Nations remind the GNWT that it has no legal authority over the management of fish stocks, fish habitat, fishery research or commercial fishery licensing.”
They noted the management responsibilities are the subject of a reconciliation process between the First Nations and the federal Crown, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Along with Erasmus, the declaration was signed by the chiefs of K’atlodeeche First Nation, Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation, West Point First Nation, Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation.

In the legislative assembly, Dehcho MLA Michael Nadli questioned Schumann about the First Nations’ opposition.

Nadli asked the minister to clarify the roles of the territorial government and the federal government in the fishery.

“The initiative to consider Section 35 rights on the Great Slave Lake for fishing is a responsibility of the federal government,” said Schumann, referring to the Canadian Constitution which affirms and recognizes aboriginal and treaty rights over traditional lands. “The territorial government looks to how we use that resource and how do we move it forward for economic opportunities for residents in the Northwest Territories, and that is what we have done.”

–Paul Bickford