Aboriginal harvesting rights
Aboriginal rights give Aboriginal people the right to participate in traditional activities on their ancestral lands. Traditional activities are activities that are a key part of the distinctive cultures of Canada's Aboriginal peoples.
These activities include traditional harvesting activities, such as fishing, hunting, trapping, or gathering.
- are protected under the Constitution Act;
- include traditional harvesting activities, such as fishing, hunting, trapping, and gathering plants, fungi, and timber; and
- in general, only apply within the ancestral territory of your Aboriginal community.
Who has Aboriginal rights in Canada?
Aboriginal rights apply to:
- First Nations,including status Indians and non-status Indians;
- Inuit; and
Aboriginal rights, including Aboriginal harvesting rights, are based on traditional activities. In general, these are activities that were practised before contact with Europeans (for First Nations and Inuit) or before Europeans took control over the area(for Métis).
However, these activities can be carried out using modern methods. For example, if hunting used to be done with a bow and arrow and is now done with a rifle, the right to hunt doesn't change.
Aboriginal harvesting rights may include the right to:
- trap, and
- gather plants, fungi, or timber.
Aboriginal rights may also include the right to:
- barter, or
- sell your harvest.
However, the right to trade, barter, or sell isn't recognized in provincial regulations. Currently, the government won't recognize a right to sell unless your right has been proven in court or negotiations.
What if I've been charged with a harvesting offence?
If you've been charged with a harvesting offence, such as illegally hunting or fishing:
- You have the right to get a lawyer.
- Aboriginal harvesting offences are covered by Legal Aid BC.
- Call Legal Aid immediately to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer.
If you don't qualify for legal aid, it's still a very good idea to get legal advice. Call Legal Aid to find out what your options are.
What if I'm not eligible for a legal aid lawyer?
Aboriginal harvesting rights cases can be complex. It's a good idea to get legal help.
Your Aboriginal community may be able to help
If you're not eligible for legal aid, your Aboriginal community may be willing to help pay for a lawyer. This will depend on the circumstances of your offence and the circumstances of your Aboriginal community.
Other legal help
You may be able to discuss your matter with duty counsel, who will provide you with free legal advice.
You may also be able to get legal information and support from:
What other options do I have?
If you're willing to take responsibility for your actions, you may be able to participate in an Aboriginal restorative justice program.
- is based on Aboriginal healing traditions, and
- focuses on repairing the harm done by your actions.
You, your community, and those affected by your actions will work together to restore harmony and move forward.
In order to participate in a restorative justice program, the Crown counsel must agree to your participation in the program as a way to resolve the charges against you.
Talk to your lawyer about what's best for you.
First Nations Court
It’s very important to get legal advice before you plead guilty, in order to understand your Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.
If you plead guilty to the charges, and Crown counsel agrees to it, you may be able to have your matter heard in First Nations Court.
Legal Aid Criminal Duty Counsel — Lawyers paid by Legal Aid who can help people with low incomes with their criminal law issues. Duty counsel can give free legal advice, but can’t take on your whole case or represent you at trial.
Native Courtworkers — Culturally-sensitive legal help for Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system.
BC211 — Free confidential referrals to help and information — Call 211
BC Association of Friendship Centres — Find a friendship centre in your area
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — See their Guide to Indigenous Organizations and Services in British Columbia for organizations that can help
PovNet — Information about poverty issues and links to organizations that can help
Aboriginal community legal workers — Give legal information and limited advice services
Legal information outreach workers — Give legal information and provide referrals
Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help
Carole James, MLA, Community Office — Free legal clinics — Call 250-412-7794
Department of Justice Community-based Justice Programs — Alternatives to mainstream justice processes
Duty counsel — Free legal advice
First Nations and Métis Outreach Program (The Law Centre) — Free legal help — Victoria
First Nations Court duty counsel — Give free legal advice about having your matter transferred to First Nations Court and the charges against you — Call 604-601-6074(Greater Vancouver) or 1-877-601-6066 (no charge outside Greater Vancouver)
Lawyer Referral Service — Helps you find a lawyer to take your case
Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program — Free legal help — Bella Coola
UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (call no charge)
Upper Skeena Counselling & Legal Assistance Society — Free legal help — Hazelton
Victoria Native Friendship Centre — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794