Cottagers & Indians

James Whetung is reclaiming his Indigenous right to cultivate wild rice on Ontario’s Pigeon Lake, but local homeowners are furious about large-scale changes in the waterways — so there’s going to be a dust-up.
Cottagers & Indians
Available on CBC Gem

Cottagers & Indians


Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning author and humourist who lives on Ontario’s Curve Lake First Nation. For generations, it was a peaceful place where residents managed to avoid conflict with “settlers.” But in recent years, that’s changed.

Hayden Taylor’s friend James Whetung has been cultivating wild rice on the Trent–Severn Waterway. A wild renegade in a fanboat, he has also sown discontent in the area. The Indigenous grandmothers whom he feeds, the water scientists with whom he consults, and those who buy his commercial product love the rice.

The cottage owners, whose waterways are becoming clogged with plants, have concerns about the scale of his seeding. And as their property values dive, they’re getting louder. Their reluctant leader, Larry Wood, is happy to tell Hayden Taylor about the compromises they seek.

There are big issues to consider: food sovereignty, property rights, restricted access to capital on reserves, racism, privilege, contract law and Indigenous poverty. These matters go far beyond Pigeon Lake, touching the lives of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous landowners across Canada.

Related Links

•   Troubled waters: Disputes over lakes, waterfronts have roared between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians   •   'Cottagers & Indians': The battle over water rights near my reserve   •   Ruckus over rice: A thorny issue that has Indigenous activists facing off with local cottagers and residents  

Hayden Taylor embarks on a cross-country journey to investigate how these groups might coexist. He travels to an isolated reserve on the lake that has provided the city of Winnipeg with pristine drinking water for a century but has left the First Nation with a boil-water advisory for more than 20 years. He samples the finer things in life with the chief of one of Canada’s most prosperous Indigenous bands. He meets an Indigenous chief and small-town mayor who both think they should have ownership of one of Canada’s most popular beaches.

It’s a journey filled with laughter, tears, joy and anger as Hayden Taylor meets with the adversaries at Curve Lake, hoping to be able to find a solution … or at least foster some peace. It all leads to a climactic conflict that he could have never imagined.