Harvesting rights

Aboriginal harvesting rights

Mack was arrested while hunting on his ancestral territory and charged with a harvesting offence. As a status Indian, Mack has Aboriginal harvesting rights. Hear his story above.

What are Aboriginal harvesting rights?

Aboriginal rights protect traditional activities that were practised by Aboriginal ancestors before European contact. Traditional harvesting activities include:

Who has harvesting rights?

Harvesting rights apply to some Indigenous peoples including First Nations and Métis; these rights are of great cultural, social, and economic importance. Mack is a Status Indian and Gitxsan. Harvesting rights on his community’s territory are protected.

Status Indians

Status Indians

Status Indians are Indigenous peoples legally registered or entitled to be registered under the Indian Act. Registered status Indians are issued a status card, have certain benefits and rights, and are eligible for government programs and services.

Status Indians who are BC residents don’t need a licence or permit to hunt animals or migratory birds, trap, or freshwater fish. If you’re harvesting, it must be:

  • for food, social, or ceremonial purposes; and
  • within areas you can prove your First Nation traditionally used.

You must also follow conservation, public health, and public safety regulations, and any laws your First Nation may have about harvesting.

Some Indigenous people also have treaty rights.

Non-Status Indians and Métis

Non-Status Indians and Métis

Non-status Indians are people of First Nations descent whose ancestors were never registered under the Indian Act or who, through intermarriage with non-Indigenous people or "voluntary" enfranchisement, lost their legal status while retaining their Indigenous identity.

BC regulations don’t recognize the right of non-status Indians to hunt, trap, or freshwater fish without a licence. If you're a non-status Indian, you may still have an Aboriginal right, but you may be charged for using this right without a licence. To avoid being charged, buy a hunting or fishing licence and follow all regulations.

Métis are Indigenous people who self-identify as Métis, are distinct from other Indigenous peoples, are of historic Métis Nation ancestry, and are accepted by the Métis Nation (see Manitoba Métis Federation). The Métis have a unique language, traditions, and rights.

Métis rights also apply to the traditional practices that were important to Métis culture. Since Métis communities developed after European contact, Métis rights are based on traditional practices that developed before Europeans took control over the area.

Some Indigenous people also have treaty rights.

What are treaty rights?

Treaty rights are rights set out in a treaty with the government and are protected. Both historic and modern treaties define First Nations’ treaty rights to harvest resources, including hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering. Provincial and federal fish and wildlife regulations in BC don’t recognize rights of historic treaties, only those of modern treaties.

Before you harvest, ask your First Nation for a copy of its treaty to find out the following:

  • Where you can harvest.
  • What resources you can harvest.
  • How you can harvest resources.
  • What you can do with your harvest.
  • Whether provincial, federal, and First Nation laws (such as a licence or permit to hunt for wildlife or fish in certain areas) may apply.

If you don’t follow the term in the treaty and any laws that apply, a conservation officer may charge you with an offence.

Conservation and public safety

Aboriginal harvesting rights may be restricted by governments for conservation, public health, and public safety reasons. To find out whether there are conservation issues that apply to you, contact your First Nation and the BC Fish and Wildlife Branch before you go hunting or fishing. Restrictions on harvesting include:

  • limited entry hunting (LEH) permits,
  • bag limits,
  • hunting seasons, and
  • national parks.

When conservation is an issue, you need an LEH permit even if you’re a status Indian and intend to hunt in your traditional area. The LEH system awards hunting permits to resident hunters based on a random draw and is used to limit the number of certain kinds of animals harvested.

Hunting groups must apply under a Group/Shared Limited Entry Hunting (LEH) application. When participating in a shared hunt, hunters are required to carry a paper Record of Harvest form while hunting.

A bag limit is a law that restricts the number of animals within a species that hunters may kill or trap. Bag limits and hunting seasons generally don’t apply to status Indians who are using Aboriginal harvesting rights and live in BC. But they may be enforced if there are conservation concerns about certain species.

Public safety rules may apply when you hunt or fish. For example, you shouldn't hunt or shoot near residential neighborhoods, roads, or recreational areas; or clam fish in areas that are closed due to contamination. The federal government requires Aboriginal harvesters to have a firearms licence. All hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering is prohibited in national parks.

Pre-harvest checklist

If you’re harvesting under an Aboriginal harvesting right, it’s possible you might be charged if a conservation officer disagrees about what’s included in your Aboriginal harvesting right.

Follow these steps to make it less likely you’ll be charged with a harvesting offence and less likely you’ll be convicted if charged.

If you're a Status Indian

If you're a Status Indian

If you're a Status Indian, talk to your First Nation before harvesting. One of the first things Mack did was to consult his aunt, the Chief of their territory. He confirmed with her that the harvesting he wanted to do was based on a traditional practice of his community and was in their traditional territory.

When you harvest, carry the following with you:

  • your Indian status card
  • your firearms licence (if you're using a firearm)
  • a letter from your First Nation that confirms:
    • your First Nation has signed a treaty, and
    • you're a member of that First Nation
  • your citizenship, membership, or harvester’s card
  • a letter of permission from the First Nation (if you're harvesting in another Nation’s territory).

If you're a non-Status Indian

If you're a non-Status Indian

If you're a non-Status Indian, your best option is to purchase any required licences. You can also talk to your First Nation to confirm that the harvesting you want to do is based on a traditional practice of your community and is in your traditional territory. When harvesting, carry the following with you:

  • your citizenship, membership, or harvester’s card
  • a letter from your First Nation that confirms:
    • you’re a member or a descendant of a member (if your First Nation doesn’t issue citizenship, membership, or harvester’s cards)
    • your First Nation signed a treaty
    • you're a member of that First Nation
  • your firearms licence (if you're using a firearm);
  • a letter of permission from the First Nation (if you're harvesting in another Nation’s territory).

If you're Métis

If you're Métis

Your best option is to purchase any required licences. When you’re harvesting, carry the following with you:

  • your Métis harvester card
  • your firearms licence (if you're using a firearm)
  • a letter of permission from the First Nation (if you're harvesting in a First Nation’s territory)

Where to get more information

Contact your First Nation to make sure you have your community’s support and to ask any questions about traditional Aboriginal harvesting practices.

For hunting and freshwater fishing licences and permits, contact: Fish and Wildlife Branch at 1-877-855-3222 or portal.nrs.gov.bc.ca/web/client/home.

For marine fishing, contact: your First Nation or the regional DFO office in your area at dfo-mpo.gc.ca/contact/regions/index-eng.html.

See Hunting and Trapping Regulations Synopsis or the Freshwater Fishing Regulations Synopsis.

If you've been charged with a harvesting offence

Aboriginal harvesting rights cases can be complex. It's a good idea to get legal help. Mack contacted Legal Aid BC and got help with his Aboriginal harvesting offence.

Call Legal Aid BC to find out if you qualify for services:

  • 604-408-2172 (Greater Vancouver)
  • 1-866-577-2525 (elsewhere in BC)

What if I'm not eligible for legal aid?

Help from your Indigenous community

If you're not eligible for legal aid, your Indigenous community might be willing to help pay for a lawyer. This depends on the circumstances of your offence and the circumstances of your Indigenous community.

Other legal help

You might be able to discuss your matter with a duty counsel lawyer who provides free legal advice. You might also be able to get legal information and support from:

What other options do I have?

Indigenous Justice Programs and Services

You might want to look into Indigenous Justice Strategy Programs (IJSPs), which provide culturally appropriate alternatives to mainstream justice processes in British Columbia. Many IJSPs involve alternative dispute resolution in a range of community contexts, which may include restorative justice. See the BC government website for more information

Restorative justice

Restorative justice programs are an example of an IJSP. If you're guilty and willing to take responsibility for your actions, you might be able to participate in a restorative justice program. Restorative justice invites victims of your crime and the community to engage with you in a process informed by Indigenous healing traditions to repair the harm you caused.

You, your community, and those affected by your actions will work together to restore harmony and move forward. To participate in a restorative justice program, 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/Indigenous Court

It’s very important to get legal advice before you plead guilty so you understand your Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights. If you plead guilty to the charges or if a lawyer has told you that you're likely to be found guilty, you might be able to have your matter heard in First Nations/Indigenous Court if the Crown agrees to it.

What your lawyer needs to know

Get legal advice before you plead guilty. Give your lawyer the details of your case and any information that Crown counsel gave you. Your lawyer also needs to know the following:

  • your address
  • whether you’re a status or a non-status Indian
  • whether you’re connected to a First Nation, and whether it has a treaty
  • where the offence took place
  • which Aboriginal community you're connected to
  • if you have permission to harvest
  • which members of your community they can meet with to get their position on your charges
  • whether you have a criminal record
  • if you're available to go to court
  • if you're interested in seeking alternative dispute resolution

Harvesting rights trials

Harvesting offences are heard in provincial criminal court. Harvesting rights trials can take months (or even more than a year) to resolve because of the complex constitutional issues involving your Aboriginal rights or treaty rights.


Page last updated: Thursday, August 24, 2023 3:53 pm hrs

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Hunting & Trapping Regulations Synopsis — A summary of BC hunting and trapping regulations made under the Wildlife Act, prepared for hunters and trappers

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