A case for increased Indigenous involvement in the commercial fishery on Great Slave Lake was made at the recent Dene National Assembly.
Chief Roy Fabian of K’atlodeeche First Nation made the argument at the July 17 to 21 assembly held on the Hay River Reserve.
“We’ve got a right to fish in the Great Slave Lake,” he told the delegates. “It’s a treaty right. It’s an aboriginal right.”
Fabian noted the Dene people no longer harvest fish like they used to years ago, when families would catch thousands of pounds of fish a year for themselves and their dog teams.
The chief pointed to two reasons the Dene are not using fish like in the past.
“It’s us who’ve changed through residential schools, through education, through economic development,” he said. “We’re no longer using the land the way we used to.”
Fabian also said the Dene were “pushed out” of the fishery business with the coming of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation in the late 1960s.
The chief said he approached the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with a proposal for more Indigenous fishing on Great Slave Lake, and he said he was told his people would need to buy licenses to become commercial fisherman.
However, he noted the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Regulations would allow Dene people to fish in a domestic zone close to Hay River.
“Dene people, aboriginal people with aboriginal rights, can fish within the domestic zone commercially,” he said. “They don’t need a commercial license to fish. It’s up to us as First Nations to negotiate with Canada how much fish we can take out every year.”
Fabian also criticized the GNWT’s process of putting together a commercial fishery revival strategy for Great Slave Lake with the NWT Fishermen’s Federation.
“We found out about it through the newspaper,” he said. “They didn’t tell us. They didn’t include us First Nations in the whole plan, and the whole plan was they wanted to increase production on Great Slave Lake.”
In addition, he criticized the GNWT for giving commercial fishing licenses on the lake to fishermen from the South.
“They didn’t even talk to us,” he said. “They didn’t even ask us as First Nations if we want to participate in the fishery.”
Fabian encouraged all First Nations around Great Slave Lake to get involved in the commercial fishery.
A resolution was passed at the Dene National Assembly calling on the federal government to negotiate a new fisheries management structure for Great Slave Lake that accommodates and reconciles Dene rights and interests, and to initiate the development of an integrated fisheries management plan to establish sustainable commercial quotas and increase Dene participation in the commercial fishing industry.