After court, trapline still under threat

After nearly a decade, and a decision from the highest court in Canada, Johnnie Sam thought the days of fighting for his trapline were over. Apparently, he was wrong.

After nearly a decade, and a decision from the highest court in Canada, Johnnie Sam thought the days of fighting for his trapline were over.

Apparently, he was wrong.

“They put a bunch of horses on my place now, right on my squirrel trail,” the 73-year-old trapper said. “They’re making some sort of a corral or something and that’s very disturbing.”

In 2004, the territory surveyed and zoned a parcel of land for agricultural use and granted it to farmer Larry Paulsen.

That parcel included a portion of Sam’s trapline.

So the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation took the territory to court, citing a failure to consult.

By the time the Supreme Court of Canada decided on the issue in November 2010, Paulsen had moved on.

Now, that exact piece of land remains zoned for agricultural use, but it is empty, said Chris Wearmouth from the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Sam continues to maintain his line regularly, like all trappers should, he said.

But he hasn’t set any traps since he found the horses out there, assuming they’ve scared away all the animals he would be trapping or that they’d get snared in his traps themselves.

But the territory can’t comment on the horses, unless it knows where the horses are.

“There is other agricultural land out there, in the area,” said Wearmouth. “So we’d really need to know exactly where this piece of land is before we could speak to the uses of the land.”

But Sam doesn’t know how to identify, exactly, where they are except to say that they are on his squirrel line.

A trapping concession is protected under the Yukon Wildlife Act, but conflicts are not new for trappers, especially with more campers, hikers, quartz-mining stakers, ATVs and snowmobiles crisscrossing the territory’s back woods.

In the past, the Department of Environment has helped trappers erect signs. But it is important to note holding a trapline concession does not mean a trapper owns the land, said Helen Slama, the department’s point person for trapping.

A trapping concession provides trappers the exclusive “opportunity” to trap, not the right, she said.

With any land parcels given out, the agriculture branch tries to mitigate possible conflicts, said branch director Tony Hill.

That includes an obligatory Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act application and consultation notices sent to any affected First Nations, asking for them to identify any problems with things like hunting or trapping in the area, he said.

But Sam works for the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation’s lands and resources department. He is also a councillor with the First Nation.

There has been no consultation about horses on his trapline, he said.

“No consultation to the lands and resources down here that they did that,” said Sam. “And after they started, they say, ‘It’s already started, we can’t stop it.’

“They give out farmland, whatever land they want, they give out. It’s right on my land. They’d be horses all over the place in the bush now, I guess.”

Hill isn’t sure what other options Sam has.

“I think what the trapper should do is call the local pound’s district and say, ‘There’s a horse at large,’” said Hill. “And get somebody to come and pick it up.

“They may not even be on an agriculture parcel. There’s lots of people with horses.”

Sam, who’s been trapping on that land since he got out of the hospital after residential school as a child, is still waiting for the promises of his court case, he said.

“After the court there’s supposed to be a consultation process put in place, so let’s bring that out and see what happens,” he said. “Or we see how far we go – (the horse owner) either pays compensation, or I’ll be glad if he just pull right out. I’ll be glad if he just pull right out, rather than taking this as far as we can, like we did before.”

And like many elders who helped write Yukon First Nations’ land claims, Sam wonders if they are being implemented like they were intended to be.

“That’s not working together,” he said. “That’s not the way we wanted it. They signed that book too, you know, the UFA (Umbrella Final Agreement). We were saying, ‘Sure, we’ll co-operate and work together, hand-in-hand.’ So they should have followed that and everything would have worked out alright.

“That land, I lost it now.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

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