Sudbury·Hunters & Gatherers

Indigenous fishing rights at the heart of Lake Nipissing conflict

The two sides in the Lake Nipissing pickerel dispute are trying to work together and put racial tensions behind them. But they still disagree about whether Indigenous people should have the right to fish the lake more than other Canadians.

Leaders from two sides meet on a dock for some CBC Radio 'mediation'

A fishing boat heads out on Lake Nipissing, which has longer been at the centre of a dispute between Nipissing First Nation and non-Indigenous recreational anglers. (Erik White/CBC )

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.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod says racism and conservation unfortunately seem to go together in northern Ontario.

"It's very convenient and very easy to hide racial tensions and wrap them up in concerns over resources," he says.

Fish Bay Marina owner Samantha Simpkin, who also heads a Lake Nipissing Stakeholders Association, says she isn't hiding anything.

"For me it's not a racial issue, for me it's simply about the resource and wanting to use it and wanting to prosper from it and wanting everyone to prosper from it," she says.

Lake Nipissing Stakeholders Association president Samantha Simpkin and Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod met at the end of a dock to discuss the dispute over pickerel fishing. (Erik White/CBC)

Simpkin blames the government for dividing people with two different sets of rights and thinks its time for locals to decide what's best for Lake Nipissing.

"I think that they've made different sets of rules for different groups of people and in anything that creates conflict for sure," she says.

"Is commercial netting sustainable in this area? Perhaps it's not."

But McLeod believes netting fish, something his people have been done for centuries, isn't any different than catching one with a rod.

"(We should) not necessarily worry so much about how it's done, but how much we do," he says.

And as for rights, McLeod says non-Indigenous people seem to have a hard time understanding that equality doesn't mean one set of rules that everyone follows.

"From our side of the fence, it's no. We're two nations, you guys made up your rules, we're making up our rules and that's equality," he says.

Simpkin and McLeod had this conversation at the end of a pier in North Bay jutting into the lake they are both so passionate about. Here's what that sounded like: