Iqaluit HTO making waves with boat users
Sylvia Grinnell dispute season opens for another summer
Debate between boat users and members of Iqaluit’s Amarok Hunters and Trappers Organization regarding access to the Sylvia Grinnell River has returned for another season.
Long-time river boater and outfitter Glenn Williams said he received a fax from the HTO on June 26 expressing its displeasure over his access to the river and asking him to stay off the water this summer.
It came as no surprise to Williams, who has been arguing with the HTO for a year now over access and conservation issues.
The HTO has stated publicly on several occasion that it feels the presence of motorized boats, and even motorless boats such as kayaks, are a threat to the river’s fish population.
The organization has argued in the past, and again this year, that all boats, including kayaks, must be banned from the river to protect and conserve fish and their habitat.
But Williams’ response is that conservation and access are two separate issues altogether.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board dealt with conservation concerns last year,” Williams said, referring to a ban on snagging and limitations on netting that were implemented as a result of DFO findings.
“They didn’t feel that a boat on the river was a conservation concern, and the HTO is aware of that,” he added.
Legally, the HTO has no authority to ban anyone but its own members from boating on the river. In order to implement a ban applying to all Canadians, an extensive process would need to be undertaken which would involve DFO and NWMB.
Knowing this, Williams said he asked HTO Chair David Ell what the real issue was, to which Williams said Ell responded by saying that HTO members “don’t like to see white people making money on the river.”
Ell emphatically denied making the statement, adding that he had nothing against white people.
“It’s any people on the river using boats. It’s just one now, but in the future it could be two or three, and might become a safety issue,” he explained.
He added that the HTO is continuing to study the impact of boats on the river with the help of Stephen Sherburne, a Yellowknife-based boating safety development officer with DFO.
Meanwhile, Williams hasn’t been deterred from taking tourists on a scenic trip down the exquisitely beautiful riverscape.
In Williams’ opinion, if the HTO were really concerned about conserving fish stocks they wouldn’t allow Inuit to take an unlimited amount of fish from the river.
While non-Inuit can only take one fish per day by rod from the river, there exists no limitations on total fish harvests for Inuit.
And the right of navigation, Williams added, is a fundamental Canadian principle.
“Navigating and access to waters is very, very Canadian. It’s what Canada was built on. Article 23 of the Land Claims Agreement guarantees access to rivers and lakes for all Canadians, including 100 feet from the high river mark.
“This is my hometown. I’m a Canadian. I respect the rules and the authority of the HTO, but this exceeds them.”
There are only a handful of Canadian waters closed to navigation by the Canadian Coast Guard, and one of those is Niagara Falls, Williams said, pointing out that it is mainly for public safety reasons that access is cut off.
Williams maintains that he has approached Ell on several occasions to sit down and talk about the issue, but has received no response, and has never been invited to a public meeting.
In fact, he said, he was even asked to leave an HTO meeting once because he is not a member.
“The HTO is asking me to do something they have no authority over, and which is not based on a legitimate concern for the resource,” Williams said.
And on top of that, he added, the three-week season of high water when he is on the river doesn’t conflict with spawning season. The char spawn in the fall, months after his boat has been removed from the river.
But Ell is trusting the elders who he said have advised him that the presence of any boats will compromise fish stocks.
Perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed by the controversy and the racial divide that has emerged over the debate, Ell sighed and let out what might have been a cry for help.
“Where is Greenpeace when you need them?” he asked.