Hunting and Trapping Regulations
When thousands of newcomers came into our traditional territory, they settled on or mined many of our traditional hunting and fishing sites. As well as limiting our access to the land, the many newcomers were competing for the resources upon which we relied. Destruction of habitats changed the travel patterns of animals as well as decreasing their numbers. The Klondike valley was deforested with wood being used for dwellings, heating, and fuel for mining and steamboats. Wood now had to be cut far upriver then floated down to Dawson City. A variety of changing hunting and fishing regulations made it ever more difficult to continue to roam the land in search of food.
The newcomers enacted many new laws to do with hunting, fishing and trapping without regard for our customs and longstanding use of the land. Many of our people have relations in Alaska and the Northwest Territories and we moved freely between these jurisdictions. When the territorial government began charging high fees for licenses for non-resident hunters, a move aimed at trophy hunters, this impacted First Nation hunters from adjoining areas. Some regulations, such as the closure of trapping of certain animals, were often due to outside pressures rather the local situation. This resulted in a case where trappers who trapped marten legally in the NWT, had their catch seized when they tried to sell the furs in Dawson to aid a companion getting medical attention. The registration of traplines in the early 1950s interfered with longstanding trapping practices and resulted in many lines being taken over by non-native trappers. Expensive fishing licenses devoured the small profits obtained from selling part of the salmon catch. Increasingly, we became isolated from the land that had sustained us for millennia.
Changes in Land Use, Changes in Health
Eating good food promotes good health. When people began eating more store-bought and less healthy foods and spending less time on the land, their health began to suffer. Many First Nations people suffer conditions linked to unhealthy diets such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Today, many dieticians recommend that aboriginal people eat less starch, fat and sugar and more wild game and country foods.
There are many benefits to spending time on the land: the fresh air and exercise involved in fishing, hunting and berrypicking are just as beneficial as the wild foods. These activities connect the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in to their culture. Time spent on the land puts people in harmony with their friends and family and the land of their ancestors. Today, programs such as First Hunt and First Fish foster this connection to the land by teaching Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in youth how to hunt and fish safely and with respect for traditional practices.
Saving Our Land/Saving Ourselves
In the early 1970s, when our people began treading the long path to a land claim settlement and self-government, the primary purpose was to protect our connection with the land. This connection had been damaged in large part due to government and church policies, the residential school era, loss of our language and culture, and the many ways in which we were treated like second class citizens. Through all this — as we documented our language and place names, collected family stories of life on the land, and spent decades negotiating with a succession of different governments — our main goal was to protect the land and ensure that we had a major role in its stewardship.
Under our agreements, we now have a direct say in the management of resources within our traditional territory through our participation on bodies such as the Dawson District Renewable Resources Council, the Regional Land Use Planning Commission and heritage steering committees with government partners for Tombstone Territorial Park, and Forty Mile, Fort Constantine and Fort Cudahy Historic Site. As mentioned elsewhere, we have taken several measures to ensure all our citizens from youth to elders have opportunities to spend time on our homeland in a respectful and restorative way.
Keep your land clean, keep your animal, that's your friend. You look after them; they'll look after you. You look after your water, land, trees, you look after it, respect it. That's our spirituality. Respect your fellow men, all these elder will tell you.
Percy Henry, 1993
A successful hunt. Packing caribou to a tent camp.
Yukon Archives, Isaac and Sadie Stringer fonds, 83/332 #8412
Madeline de Repentigny picking blueberries, 2006.
Students taking part in First Fish camp, 2009. This program helps reconnect youth with the land.