THUNDER BAY — Five First Nations in the Lake Nipigon region allege that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has failed its duty to consult them prior to issuing permits to non-Indigenous resource users.
In a joint statement issued Monday, the First Nations of Rocky Bay, Lake Helen, Gull Bay, Sand Point and Lake Nipigon announced they had formed a committee to push the province to recognize its legal obligations for consultation, accommodation and consent "on all permits they issue."
Chief Wilfred King of Gull Bay was appointed spokesperson for the group.
King said the government is providing benefits to non-Indigenous individuals or industries such as tourism, mining and forestry because of "regional or provincial priorities" rather than ensuring consultation, access and inclusion by the First Nations "as is legally required."
The statement referred specifically to non-Indigenous commercial outfitters operating on Lake Nipigon.
"Matters surrounding the management of Lake Nipigon watershed by the MNRF recently came to a head when pseudo-commercial houseboat charter operations were discovered to be operating in a manner to which the FN communities purport negatively impact not only their people but the resource as a whole," it said.
According to King, the ministry has reduced First Nations fish quotas over the years, so "why does the ministry do nothing in so far as limiting the access of non-Indigenous individuals and businesses to the resources?"
He added "We find ourselves at a critical point in time, where we...continue to see our inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights and interests subjugated by the government" through decisions made by ministerial staff in regional offices.
The Chiefs' statement said they plan to push for joint oversight of natural resources with the province until such time that their communities "have the capacity to regulate and administrate by way of tripartite agreements."
They will meet again next week to approve their next steps.
MNRF says it is working to address issues
The MNRF, in a statement to Tbnewswatch on Monday afternoon, said the government takes its duty to consult "very seriously" and is committed to ensuring proper consultation takes place with Indigenous people.
"We are aware of concerns regarding the operation of large houseboats on Lake Nipigon. Ministry staff will work with First Nations Chiefs to address the issues they have raised," the statement said.
It added that the ministry has conducted compliance inspections on the houseboats with respect to fishing regulations and boater safety.
The statement noted that Lake Nipigon is "a renowned sport fishery for brook trout, lake trout and northern pike, with many commercial tourism operators."
Sport fishing for walleye remains open, but key areas of the lake have reduced daily catch limits (2 per person) to help preserve the population.
Lake Nipigon also has a commercial fishery for whitefish. Commercial fishing for walleye and sauger was closed in the 1990s.