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New report shows how Canadian law is failing Indigenous trapline holders

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Trappers’ stories illustrate cumulative impact of industrial activity on lands, waters and wildlife

VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – A new report from West Coast Environmental Law reveals an urgent need to better align Canadian and Indigenous law on traplines, in order to uphold Aboriginal and Treaty rights and protect the environment from the cumulative impacts of industrial development.

Produced in collaboration with a group of Indigenous trappers in BC, the report looks at the challenges faced by Indigenous trapline holders seeking to protect their hereditary and registered traplines from the cumulative impacts of various industrial projects including logging, mining, hydroelectric damming, and oil and gas development.

“Indigenous trappers and their communities have cared for the land for generations, and the Canadian legal system is failing them,” said Jessica Clogg, Executive Director & Senior Counsel. “This report is meant to acknowledge the serious challenges these trappers face, while presenting recommendations to help improve the situation for trappers, their families, and the lands and waters they rely on.”

Many trappers expressed strong responsibilities, grounded in their own Indigenous laws, to maintain the health of the lands, waters and wildlife on their traplines for future generations.

Dunne-zah/Cree trapper Bud Napoleon, one of the main contributors to the report, has spent years working to defend his family trapline against the cumulative effects of rampant industrial development in Treaty 8 territory. Unfortunately many remedies in existing Canadian law are inaccessible to trappers like Napoleon, making it incredibly difficult for him to uphold his obligations as a trapline holder under his people’s Indigenous laws.

“For years I’ve been telling my people that we’ve got to take the bull by the horn and bring back our own Indigenous laws, because a lot of our systems that we had in place before the Europeans came were strong. We had our own social and economic systems, including how we look after elders and kids and others – and that included the environment. Those were unwritten laws that people understood and abided by,” Napoleon explained.

“We are taught that we only borrow the land from our children and grandchildren, and that we must leave the land as pure as we got it. That means conservation, or if necessary mitigating any damages done to the land,” he said.

Through the contributions of Indigenous trappers, the report demonstrates how Indigenous governance and legal systems address cumulative effects and facilitate the protection of the land and wildlife in ways that the current Canadian legal framework does not.

The report shares Indigenous legal perspectives on trapline governance, and outlines a series of Canadian legal tools for protecting trapline holders’ rights and responsibilities. It also lists a number of recommendations for governments to help address the problems – including recognizing Indigenous law regarding traplines, conducting “big picture” assessments to manage cumulative effects, and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Producing this report was an important learning experience that highlighted the complexity of trapline governance and the implications for the environment. We hope this report lays the groundwork for a much-needed policy discussion on trappers’ rights and responsibilities – both here in BC and across Canada,” said Clogg.

The full report, Caretakers of the Land and its People, is available at:


For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Alexis Stoymenoff | Senior Communications & Engagement Specialist
604-684-7378 ext. 228,