Sudbury·Hunters & Gatherers

Northern Ontario First Nation considers hunting limits to protect moose

The dwindling moose population in some corners of northern Ontario has First Nations looking at imposing hunting limits for the first time ever. But some say more drastic steps are needed to bring moose back from the brink of extinction.

Several First Nations have stopped welcoming visiting Indigenous hunters into their territory

The declining moose population around Chapleau, Ont. has some area first nations considering setting limits on hunting moose and charging those that don't follow the rules. (Getty Images/EyeEm)

Hunters and Gatherers is series looking at hunting and fishing in northern Ontario, how Indigenous rights can divide people, how some northerners find ways to share the resources and what sharing the land means for reconciliation.

Charmaine Saunders got a moose last year. But she knows lots of other people in Brunswick House First Nation who didn't.

"It is getting harder and harder to hunt out there. I do think about that lot," says the 58-year-old.

She remembers hunting in the woods around Chapleau, Ont. as a child and seeing plenty of moose. Her kids grew up in the city and didn't have a connection to the land. 

Now Saunders has 12 grandchildren, who she loves to take out on the land. She worries if there'll be any moose left for them to hunt when they come of age.

That's why she's happy to hear that Brunswick House is considering bringing in moose hunting limits for the first time ever that would restrict the rights of their members.

Saunders doesn't think it'll cause much controversy, with grandparents like her thinking of the younger generation, part of the recent Indigenous baby boom

"They'll probably feel the same, because everybody in that community has young people who are too young to hunt."

Bruce Golden is the lands and resources coordinator at Brunswick House First Nation near Chapleau, Ont. (Erik White/CBC )

But Brunswick House land and resources co-ordinator Bruce Golden is expecting some push-back to the very idea of limiting treaty hunting rights.

"We do anticipate people are not going to like that, but you can't always please everybody and just go to do your best," he says.

Those limits could still be a few hunting seasons away.

Golden says the First Nation is in the process of getting a certified land code, which will give it formal control over its reserve lands and the ability to set hunting and fishing laws and fine those that don't follow them.

He says he expects that land code to be in place by October 2018.

In the meantime, Brunswick House has stopped issuing "Shipman letters," allowing Indigenous hunters from other treaty areas to shoot moose in their territory. Golden says last year, they had 70 requests for these letters, which basically acts as a hunting licence. 

A truck hauling a fishing boat drives down the long dirt road into the Chapleau Game Preserve. (Erik White/CBC)

Visiting Indigenous moose hunters are also no longer being welcomed by the neighbouring Chapleau Cree First Nation.

But when it comes to hunting limits for his members, Chief Keeter Corston says he'll stick with the honour system.

He too is worried about the shrinking moose population, but he blames clear cutting and aerial pesticide spraying by forestry companies.

"I know they like to blame Indian hunting on everything, but it's not that at all. It's all the same rape and plunder mentality," says Corston.

But Vince Cricton, an internationally renowned moose biologist originally from Chapleau who recently retired from the government of Manitoba, says the science shows that over-harvesting by Indigenous hunters is to blame, especially in the Chapleau Game Preserve where only First Nations are allowed to shoot moose.

He wants to see everyone banned from hunting moose in the area until the population recovers.

Vince Crichton, a moose researcher and biologist originally from Chapleu, says hunting of moose by anyone in the Chapleau area should stop immediately. (Supplied photo)

"The minute they allowed the First Nations people in there to hunt, and a small minority of them I must tell you, the population went to Hell in a hand basket," says Crichton.

"I'm not against treaty rights, understand that. But treaty rights mean diddly if there's nothing there. "

Crichton believes that more dialogue with First Nations is needed to come up with a mutually agreed conservation plan.  But he would also like the government to step in and use its powers under the Sparrow decision on Indigenous rights to bring in a moose hunting moratorium. 

"We got to all get in the same canoe here and start going the same direction," he says.