Joe Johnson gets a hunting license

- August 12th, 2012

In a fascinating and provocative essay titled “Boundaries among Kin: Sovereignty, the Modern Treaty Process, and the Rise of Ethno-Territorial Nationalism,” Cornell University Professor Paul Nadasdy argues that land claims agreements and negotiations between the Canadian government and Canadian First Nations have, at least in some instances, led to the “the rise of ethno-territorial nationalisms among First Nations.” Moreover Nadasdy presents the thesis that the very act of trying to transfer power, governance, and control from the so-called colonial power — that would be Canada — to First Nations is itself a colonizing act because, Nadasdy says, it “implicitly devalue[s] aboriginal forms of socio-political organization [and] it is also helping transform First Nation society in radical and often unintended ways. One of the most significant aspects of this transformation is the emergence among Yukon First Nation peoples of multiple ethno-territorial identities and corresponding nationalist sentiments.”

More on this essay in a future post (I hope).

Akin at the Mayo Dam, Yukon Territory

MAYO, Yukon Territory (Aug 21, 2009) - Your blog author at the Mayo Dam covering a visit to the facility by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Mayo, in central Yukon, is in the territory of the Nacho Nyak Dun.

In the meantime, here is Nadasdy’s account of a friend who is an elder in the Kluane First Nation who wants to hunt in the territory of another FN:

Relations between the Kluane First Nation (KFN) and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations(CAFN) are friendly. There is not much overlap between their traditional territories, and efforts to resolve the little there is have been relatively amicable. There is also considerable day-to-day social interaction between Kluane and Champagne/Aishihik citizens, nearly all of whom have very close relatives (e.g., spouses, parents, children, siblings, or cousins) in the other First Nation.

That is why I was surprised in the summer of 2006 when Joe Johnson, a citizen of KFN and a good friend, told me he had obtained a Yukon hunting license so he could hunt around Fourth of July Creek, just across the KFN-CAFN border. Under the terms of KFN’s Final Agreement, Kluane citizens are free to hunt anywhere in their own traditional territory without a Yukon hunting license. To hunt within another First Nation’s territory, however, they have a choice: they can either get permission to hunt there from that First Nation, or they can obtain a Yukon hunting license in the same fashion as any non-First Nation Yukon resident. Those First Nation citizens who choose the latter strategy are subject to Yukon—rather than First Nation—hunting regulations. That Joe would have done the latter frankly stunned me. In practical terms, it is not much more difficult for a Kluane citizen to obtain a Yukon hunting license than to get permission to hunt from another First Nation, but to do so is to submit to the authority of the Yukon Fish andWildlife Branch.

…Fish and game laws were among the principle mechanisms used by federal and territorial officials to establish and maintain control over Yukon Indian people, beginning in the 1940s. The consequences of this were particularly dire for First Nation people in the southwest Yukon where the creation of the Kluane Game Sanctuary (later Kluane National Park) threatened their very survival; on at least one occasion, the government had to truck beef into the region to prevent starvation. Fish and game laws also undermined important cultural practices; years before, Joe himself had risked imprisonment by “illegally” hunting Dall sheep for his father’s funeral potlatch, without which, he felt, it would have been impossible to carry out a proper ceremony. Indeed, opposition to Yukon fish and game laws was one of the prime factors that motivated Yukon Indian people to organize politically and push for the settlement of land claims in the 1970s. They had been staunch defenders of what they saw as their aboriginal hunting rights and would never have agreed to a treaty that subjected them to Yukon hunting regulations. Hence my surprise when I learned about Joe’s choice to obtain a Yukon hunting license rather than go through the CAFN fish and wildlife office.

When I asked Joe why he had done so, he explained that the summer before, the last time he and I had hunted together up Fourth of July Creek, he had asked CAFN for permission to hunt. In response, they sent him a letter granting him permission to hunt there for one specific week only. After telling me this, he looked at me for a while, his eyes smoldering. Then he went on to say that if a CAFN citizen asks for permission to hunt in Kluane territory, “we give them as much time as they want.” He said he had decided to get a Yukon license so he could hunt wherever he wanted and would not have to put up with such insulting treatment anymore. The language of “us and them” that Joe used is, I think, significant. Some of his closest relatives were citizens of CAFN, including his paternal uncles who helped raise him and taught him to hunt. Yet, because of the territorial boundary and the regulatory regime it engenders, it had become possible for him to draw a distinction between “us”—Kluane people—and them—Champagne and Aishihik people—in a manner that would have been unthinkable just two decades earlier.

…the limitation on Joe’s ability to hunt was issued not by a specific person, but by the First Nation’s bureaucratic apparatus. Thus, Joe’s anger was directed not at a particular person acting in a culturally inappropriate manner, but at “them” — CAFN as an ethno-territorial whole . . .the limitation on Joe’s ability to hunt was issued not by a specific person, but by the First Nation’s bureaucratic apparatus. Thus, Joe’s anger was directed not at a particular person acting in a culturally inappropriate manner, but at “them”—CAFN as an ethno-territorial whole. Joe’s impression that KFN regularly and routinely granted citizens from other First Nations permission

Nadasdy’s anecdote was published earlier this summer but, as he notes, this was Johnson’s experience in 2006. I’m not sure if it’s the same Joe Johnson, but a CBC report from January, 2010 reports that Kluane First Nation elder Joe Johnson passed away that month.

As with [far too many] academic journals nowadays, Nadasdy’s essay is not online but is hidden behind a mighty expensive firewall which means you’ll have to seek out your favourite library to read this piece or fork over $15. Here’s the citation: Comparative Studies in Society and History 2012;54(3):499–532. 0010-4175/12 $15.00 # Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2012 doi:10.1017/S0010417512000217

Categories: Aboriginal Affairs

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