Bob_mar2As a Nipissing First Nation member and an Anishinaabe man, I am saddened and sickened by the plague of rotting, abandoned nets being discovered week-after-week on Lake Nipissing.  I truly share the anger that is being portrayed in local coffee shops, in newspaper comment sections and in social media.  These reckless and illegal acts are unforgiveable.  My heart aches as I feel the pain of our beautiful lake and the fish-life that have given our people sustenance and life for centuries. If you need criminal defense attorney, I can advise you to check Can someone please advise me an attorney who can agree to defend a lake?

Instead of sulking and festering, I have decided to put forward my thoughts on a decisive action plan that might contribute to the resolution of this issue.  I am pleased to deliver this for consideration to my community.

1.  Investigation and Prosecution

Illegal fishing, accidentally losing a net, recklessness, carelessness, or not using NFN registered gill net tags – no matter how you phrase it, it’s an offence. It may or may not be a criminal offence, a provincial conservation offence or even an NFN by-law offence – but it IS an offence against natural law and the values and practices of our people.

ACTION:  I hereby demand that Nipissing First Nation enable our own authorities and call in the assistance of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of these immoral offences to the furthest extent of the law.  If these are Nipissing First Nation members, other First Nation members, or anyone that may be wrongfully hiding behind the veil of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, your time is up.

2.  Courageous and Decisive Leadership

It is time for leadership on this issue.  Not only for Nipissing First Nation Chief and Council but for each and every one of us.  What can you do to be part of the solution?

ACTION:  I am personally offering a $1000.00 reward for any information provided to Nipissing First Nation or the Ministry of Natural Resources that leads to the successful prosecution of those who have been fishing illegally and are responsible for the abandoned nets.  We need leadership and action now to protect our rights as Anishinaabe people.  If you have any information on these abandoned nets, please provide your information to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667) or call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

3.  More Effective Regulation, Enforcement

The right to an indigenous commercial fishery is a collective right, not an individual right.  Our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights must be protected for the benefit of all Nbisiing citizens, our families and for all Anishinaabe people.  We must also do our part, as traditional stewards of our territorial lands and waters, to protect the resource from illegal fishing and overfishing. Nipissing First Nation has the right to regulate this fishery.  But so far, NFN regulations have done little to curb illegal fishing and abandoned nets.

ACTION:  I am calling for stronger laws, regulations, increased enforcement and strong punishments for those harvesting outside of the law.  This includes lifetime bans, substantial fines and even imprisonment for those guilty of abandoning a gill net.  It’s also time that our First Nation laws be enforced by provincial Conservation Officers and Ontario Courts.  Nipissing First Nation must finally find a way to work alongside the Ministry of Natural Resources, to jointly work for the good of the lake and the fish-life.

4. Improved Tools & Training for Commercial Harvesters

Our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights can be enhanced by using modern technology to monitor and improve practices in gill netting.  Gill nets need to be better marked will buoys equipped with highly visual markers and perhaps even GPS equipment for guaranteed location.  Registered commercial harvesters should be trained in interpreting the weather, wind and the current patterns of the lake to aid in safety and predicting the drift of their nets.

ACTION:  I recommend that Nipissing First Nation develop a pilot project to study possible options to enhance the visibility of markers, the electronic tracking of gill nets and improved training of our commercial harvesters.

5.  Taking Steps to Move Away from the Fishery

For decades, our people made a moderate living off the Lake.  My family, and most other families at one time or another were commercial harvesters.  We sold our fish out of our backdoor or even out of the back of our trunk.  Today, given the state of the Lake and the health of the fishery, our people need to move away from the fishery as a means of earning a living.  Our community should be setting our own quota, providing a finite number of commercial gill-netting licenses, and slowly reducing these over time.  Or perhaps increasing these over time, depending on the health of the fishery.  But to allow for such bold action, our community needs to find sound alternatives for those harvesters who legitimately depend on the fishery as their source of income.

ACTION:  I recommend that Nipissing First Nation develop a community employment and training strategy that will lead to more skills and jobs for those solely reliant on the fishery.  I further recommend that the Province of Ontario invest in such an initiative with a focus on encouraging training, occupations and professions that give back to the Lake and the fishery, rather than deplete the resource.

6.  Treaty Education

Last, but not least, it is clear by a lot of the newspaper comments section and social media, that there is a very outspoken and vibrant community of ignorance out there.  People who are ignorant of the facts about Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.  Most are angry individuals who harbor personal resentments that leads to inaccurate, uninformed, hurtful and harmful statements.  Racist statements against First Nations people seem to be the norm, and seem to be acceptable, when news like this is published.

Ladies and Gentlemen, kind reader – Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are a reality and they are fact.  The case law at all levels, including the Supreme Court of Canada, has repeatedly affirmed and entrenched these rights.  Nipissing First Nation has the right to a commercial fishery.  Nipissing First Nation members have the right to use gill nets.  Nipissing First Nation has a right to regulate our own fishery.

These aren’t opinions, they are not unfounded statements, these are facts.

The tide needs to turn.  Just like the 1960s, many people have had to come to grips with civil rights.  For some, it was a tough time.  To understand civil rights and appreciate civil rights.  So too does the Indigenous rights movement.  We can’t be content with just saying “it is what it is”.  We need the average Canadian to understand why “it is what it is”.

ACTION:  All levels of government, including Nipissing First Nation, need to do more to educate non-native people about our rights.  I strongly encourage the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario and even our First Nation to invest in Treaty Education.

It is through leadership and decisive action, we can eliminate illegal fishing and rebuild the strength of our fishery through understanding, partnership and mutual respect.  Moreover, it should be goal of everyone involved, to that we never see another illegal, abandoned gill net in Lake Nipissing.