Kelly Lake traplines ailing amid resource development

When Linette Calliou Hodges walks her family trapline, the scene is bleak.

"It's scarce right now," said Calliou Hodges, rights and title manager at the Kelly Lake Cree Nation. "The animals are moving, migrating elsewhere or they're just at-risk. They're not coming to the areas they've historically come to."

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The nation says overlapping forestry, oil and gas and other resource development tenures have wreaked havoc on its eight family-owned traplines.

"It's not going to be a way of life for our people any longer because of the cumulative impacts," Calliou Hodges said.

On Nov. 25, the nation met with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources about logging in the area, saying it hadn't been adequately consulted.

Calliou Hodges said traplines have been in decline for around 30 years. Management of the lines has always been contentious. Her great-great grandfather was forced to register his trapping route with the government in the 1920s.

"So that's been in our family for at least five generations we know of," she said.

Beaver tends to be the most commonly trapped animal, she said, adding members have stopped trapping certain animals, including wolverine, after the nation carried out a study on at-risk species.

The impact of logging on trapping, an activity protected by treaty rights, has landed the B.C. government in hot water in the past.

In 2013, Fort Nelson First Nation member George Behn lost in the Supreme Court of Canada after non-violently blockading a timber parcel. Behn claimed he hadn't been adequately consulted after being told to remove his traps from the area set to be logged.

While the blockade didn't break any laws, the judge ruled against Behn's claim that the government was obligated to consult both the First Nation and himself as an individual trapline holder. The court ordered the province to pay $1.75 million in damages to the timber company, saying it started the conflict in the first place by botching consultations with Fort Nelson First Nation.

Calliou Hodges said the province could be opening itself up to a legal challenge by failing to consult Kelly Lake.

"We're getting pretty fed up with the way the B.C. government is choosing not to consult with us," she said. "They see us, under their policy, as individual trapline holders. Collectively, when you look at it, we're not individual trapline holders. We're holding title to an area as a collective nation."

The 800-member Kelly Lake Cree Nation lies 80 kilometres south of Dawson Creek. Kelly Lake was not included in the treaty process and is not covered under the Indian Act, according to the band's website.

It is pursuing a land grievance against the federal government, laying claim to around 44,000-square kilometres of land from Jasper National Park to the Peace River.

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