Taking place from Thursday to Friday at the Senator Allan Bird Memorial Centre, the 2013 NSTA convention re-emphasized the careful environmental stewardship that the province’s trappers have traditionally followed.
“You have to protect the environment at all times, and the trappers have always been the natural stewards and caretakers of the land,” co-ordinator Leonard Hardlotte said.
“But they also have to make a living. But in order to make a living, you have to balance what you take from the land and what you leave on the land, and what your needs are.”
Hardlotte estimated that there were 200 people at the convention on Thursday, with more expected the next day.
Those numbers show a considerable increase over last year’s attendance of roughly 150, reflecting an industry that has undergone a resurrection in recent years.
“It was under threat for a long period of time,” Hardlotte said. “But it’s getting better because the Asian market is now open for wild fur, which has brought the price of fur up.
“Four years ago, the number of trapping licenses issued in northern Saskatchewan was under 1,100. This year, they’re closing on 3,000 licenses.
“That’s because the fur prices have come up, and that’s specifically because of the Asian market.”
The growing demand for wild furs in China, and to a lesser extent Taiwan and Japan, has helped northern trappers who depend on the trade as part of their traditional lifestyle and have been struggling in recent years.
At the same time, Hardlotte said that provincial government policy changes over the last several years have hurt northern trappers. He advocated direct nation-to-nation buying and selling to raise prices for individual trappers instead of allowing fur buyers to pocket the majority of the funds.
“One thing that I want to mention that this government has done that really hurt the trappers was take away the two-way radio system,” he said.
“They gave some of the trappers satellite phones, which are incredibly expensive and they don’t always work well. But when they had the two-way radio, people were communicating all the time.”
Hardlotte pointed to two major disadvantages of satellite phones: Trappers must be heading in a certain direction or located at a specific position for them to work, and use of the service can also be very expensive.
Another government policy, the elimination of the NSTA grant in 2010, put the trappers’ convention itself in jeopardy.
“They used to give them $50,000 a year for operating and for the convention,” Hardlotte said.
“They took that all away. For two years prior to last year, there was no convention, period. The state of (the) trapping industry was poor because of fur prices and nobody had money and there was no money from the government.”
It was only with the assistance of Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Vice Chief Brian Hardlotte, a staunch supporter of the trapping industry, that the convention was able to find its footing again.
The PAGC agreed to raise the necessary funds to finance the 2012 convention, and this year’s convention similarly relied on funding from businesses and community institutions.
The sustainability theme of the 2013 convention is in part an effort to counter public misconceptions.
“We know that there’s people that are against trapping,” NSTA west side representative Barry Opekokew.
“We want to work with them in creating awareness, where they’ll be more aware of the livelihood, the culture … That is very important, I think, to let people know that trappers are the last line of defence for our environment.”
Such a claim can seem surprising given the nature of the industry. But Leonard Hardlotte pointed out that sustainability has always been a core element of the trapper lifestyle.
You have to protect the environment at all times, and the trappers have always been the natural stewards and caretakers of the land. - Leonard Hardlotte
Trappers can keep track of how many animals are in a certain plot of land by monitoring summer activity and following tracks in the fall. They also take note of which animals are larger and older versus those that are younger and smaller.
“They always make sure there are some left over so that they can maintain,” Hardlotte said. “Lots of people trap a certain area for one winter, and then they’ll leave it for 3 years, and then they’ll trap another area … so the animals can always flourish.”
Among the speakers at the convention on Thursday were PAGC Grand Chief Ron Michel, NSTA president Clifford Ray and Mayor Greg Dionne.
Reflecting a potential threat to northern trappers, supporters of Idle No More and Renewable Power -- The Intelligent Choice were also present at the convention in anticipation of issues related to nuclear waste disposal that were expected to be brought up on Friday.
“Any time that you talk about nuclear waste is a threat,” Hardlotte said. “But we know that the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has gotten research money regarding nuclear waste and we don’t mind them working with the Grand Council and tribal councils regarding the nuclear waste issue. But in Saskatchewan, we believe it’ll never happen.
“First of all, the communities that are discussing this are along the Churchill River, and no other community along the Churchill River will allow it to happen. In fact, the land use plans that are in place now, which is legislation, will not allow it to happen. So to me, it’s an exercise in futility.”