Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2008 (3337 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Never mind that she was telling me off. And never mind that other aboriginal people, including her parents, were leaning in trying to catch every word.
At issue was aboriginal people fishing in the pickerel spawning grounds that feed Dauphin Lake. It's an aboriginal treaty right to fish outside the sport fishing season, but if these fish aren't allowed to spawn, they will be wiped out.
On this night -- four days before the official sport fishing season -- about 25 aboriginal anglers are casting into the main pickerel spawning grounds on the Turtle River that feeds Dauphin Lake. One woman admitted she caught 25 pickerel in one day. She also admits to catching and keeping pre-spawn fish filled with hundreds of thousands of eggs.
Then the young woman mentioned above, who did not give her name, but whom someone called Stacey, stepped in.
"You wiped out our buffalo," she charged. "You took away our land. You'll never stop. You'll try to take everything. Now you're trying to take away our right to do a little bit of fishing."
She spoke faster than I could take notes. "We feed ourselves. We're not doing anything wrong." And: "There's millions and millions of fish. A few people catching for family use isn't going to hurt. People are trying to pin something on us, but they should take a look at the big picture."
But what if she's wrong? What if it is destroying the future fish population?
"You guys wiped out our buffalo. What goes around comes around," she said.
The annual spring spawning season for fish has become the unofficial aboriginal fishing season.
There are seven tributaries into Dauphin Lake. The fish leave Dauphin Lake and swim up the tributaries. The females dump their eggs, the males fertilize the eggs, and all head back to the lake. Aboriginal people dot the shoreline of the tributaries catching the fish before the official sport fishing season starts this weekend.
As Shane Lynxleg said, while fishing Valley River, another tributary into Dauphin Lake: "In another four days, the sport fishers will be everywhere."
How good is the fishing during spawning season? It's unbelievable. "Every cast," says one man from Pine Creek First Nation. That's at its peak, mind you, which was a couple of weeks ago. Two weeks ago, someone counted 57 aboriginal anglers at the Turtle River spawning pool.
Fishing is so good because fish are vulnerable at this stage in their life cycle. They're in clear, shallow water, and more than willing to bite the hook. That's why laws keep sport and commercial fishermen off the waters.
As one might well imagine, resentment is rising in the non-aboriginal population. Fishing has crashed on Dauphin Lake. Just sit in Sticky's Bait and Tackle Shop in Dauphin and hear the sob stories. "Sticky" is what everyone calls owner Don Stokotelny.
"Terrible. Brutal," said one man. "I went ice fishing 15 times this winter and got one keeper. It's just a disgrace."
But there's more to the issue than just fish stocks. This lake was dead 30 years ago. It took thousands of hours of volunteer work, and fundraising hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Intermountain Sport Fishing Enhancement group to bring the fish back. Volunteers built riffles so fish could spawn, shored up riverbanks, and stocked the lake annually with fry, which they still do. It's a massive lake, covering over 320 square kilometres.
So it's not just a resource the aboriginal fishermen are harvesting. It's also someone else's labour, part of the quotient in most resource matters.
The province isn't willing to concede yet that there's a correlation between falling fish stocks and aboriginal fishing. More population surveys are needed. Also, some anglers are comparing today to peak fishing seasons of 2004 and 2005, officials say.
Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick said there has been greater monitoring of aboriginal anglers this year, and conservation officers have been out talking to them and educating them. For example, when they catch pickerel during spawning season, they should press down on the belly. If eggs discharge, or a milky substance called milt, the fish hasn't spawned yet and should be thrown back.
Hunting and fishing rights are constitutionally-protected treaty rights for aboriginal people. There must be compelling conservation needs to infringe on treaty rights, as stated in the Supreme Court Sparrow decision of 1993.
Melnick maintained that sustainability of the fish supersedes all people's rights. If necessary, the province could issue a ban on fishing during spring spawning from March 31 until the start of the sport fishing season. She acknowledges that is a big step.
It certainly would be. Considering the depth of feeling on both sides of the issue, here's hoping something can be worked out. The problem is that aboriginal fishing during spawning season has taken on a life of its own.