Before Charlie Swallow passed on his land to George Brien, the Elder taught George an important lesson—to look after it and not to leave it. “He didn’t teach me any other way but to hunt and to look after the land,” remembers George.
This lesson doesn’t seem to be familiar to the American sports fishermen who have swarmed to George’s trapline since the Route du Nord was built through it last year. Before the highway was built, a few fishers would drive around through Matagami just to get to the prime sturgeon fishing grounds on George’s land. This season, the road has brought about 100 fishers.
“The Americans (sport fishermen) are disturbing me. I can’t kill the sturgeon. They cut up the nets with their motors,” said George, 62, who first came to this trapline in the Nemaska Territory 40 years ago.
“It would be good if they didn’t go fishing there right at the rapids. I used to get lots of food there. Now the sports fishermen go there all the time. Now you don’t see the the fish I used to look for at the rapids. Now the nets are empty.”
Are the sports fishers scaring the sturgeon? “Of course,”said George. “The sturgeon is very perceptive. Even underwater he can smell smoke.”
The game wardens haven’t been too helpful. A spokesman of the Ministry of Recreation, Hunting and Fishing said a game warden did “two serious checks” and “didn’t find anyone who was overfishing.” The game warden also fixed signs to trees asking the sports fishers to avoid George’s nets. “He was looking happy after that,” said the spokesman.
But George says not everyone is respectful. “Some of them listen. Some of them don’t.”
Steven Neeposh, the Cree Trappers Association officer in Nemaska, says the game wardens aren’t doing enough to check for overfishing. Asked if the signs are enough, Neeposh said, “I doubt it. If they [the sports fishers] know where their secret spots are, they’re going to go there.”
“If they don’t want us blocking roads, they should enforce our rights. They should enforce the agreements and patrol the lake, or give George the authority to stop them from going into the restricted areas,” said Neeposh.
He said the CTA is considering helping George set up an outfitting operation with a permit to cover the lake which is now being used by the sports fishers. Then, George would be able to regulate the sports fishing himself, said Neeposh.