As Canada overhauls its endangered-species legislation, the government should set aside guaranteed harvest levels for First Nations, says Matthew Coon Come, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“It seems like every time there is a list prepared, First Nations are the first ones to be affected,” said Coon Come in a newspaper report.
Prohibitions on hunting could have direct effects on the ability of many Native people to make a living, he said. Coon Come said the new legislation should guarantee Native people a minimum hunting level — even in parks or protected areas — as part of their Aboriginal and treaty rights.
“We can establish some guaranteed harvest levels so we can continue our community and ceremonial activities,” he said.
Coon Come’s comments came during a meeting of Canadian wildlife and environment ministers in Iqaluit, at which the new endangered-species legislation was discussed.
While there, David Anderson, the federal environment minister, promised that First Nations will get a voice in deciding which endangered species get protection.
“No people are as concerned about the disappearance of species as aboriginal people,” he said.
Anderson said an Aboriginal representative will have a seat on the scientific committee that determines whether a species is at risk.
“This is the first time we have acknowledged the knowledge of generations of Aboriginal people who have lived on the land as part of the process of determining the species at risk and what should be done as a recovery plan.”
Anderson also promised that the species at risk legislation will conform to all treaty rights and land claims.
The new legislation sets fines up to $1 million for companies and $250,000 for individuals who deliberately kill an animal considered an endangered species or destroy its habitat, jail terms up to five years could also be imposed.
Coon Come is welcoming the inclusion of an Aboriginal representative, but environmentalists are concerned about the bill.
They note that a scientific panel would draw up an annual list of endangered species, but the federal cabinet would ratify the choices. That means politicians, not scientists, would have the final say on which species are defined as endangered.
But environmental groups generally welcomed the inclusion of Aboriginal knowledge. “There is clearly aboriginal knowledge and traditional knowledge that is more valuable than what Western science can give,” said Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club.
‘Td rather trust endangered species with Matthew Coon Come than Jean Chrétien any day,” she said.
John Laird of the World Wildlife Fund said Aboriginal hunters are often right where government scientists are wrong.
He cited the example of one village in Nunavut that tried for 20 years to convince the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that there are three separate populations of beluga whales in their area.
“Only after 20 years did they acknowledge what the community had been saying,” Laird said.
Jose Kusugak, of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, said Aboriginal traditional knowledge and science are both based on years of observation and trial and error.
“(Traditional knowledge) is not a foreign thing. It is not to be looked at as an enemy, but as a friend.”