Nipissing First Nation strongly connected to their lake

By Kelly Anne Smith

NIPISSING FIRST NATION—”Nipissing First Nation are considered widely to be leaders in Indigenous fisheries.” This from University of Toronto researcher Nicole Latulippe. She recently presented her findings to Nipissing First Nation from her work with the Fish-WIKS research project.

Nicole Latulippe on Nipissing First Nation presenting research on the Fish-WIKS project. Photo by: Sara Cornthwaite.

Her project asked ‘what are people’s relationships to Lake Nipissing?’ Her story is the first of three from a presentation to the community.

Nipissing is one of four First Nations in the project Fish-WIKS, a project funded by Social Services and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It looks to understand western and Indigenous knowledge systems to enhance Canadian fisheries policy and to improve sustainability. The other First Nations are Eskasoni, Nova Scotia; Naujaat, Nunavut; and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, British Columbia. A Ph.D. student worked with each community.

Nicole Latulippe, from North Bay in Nipissing territory, is now a Ph.D. graduate; however, she was a Geography Ph.D. student at University of Toronto when she began with Fish-WIKS in 2013. She remembers being very excited to join the project. Latulippe also previously worked for the Anishinabek Nation (Union of Ontario Indians).

Latulippe worked closely with Clint Couchie, the natural resources department manager. He also doubled as the Fish-WIKS community liaison. That led to extensive research.

“I formally interviewed about 33 people, 30 from the community and three from outside the community. For those people that wanted them, those transcripts go back. I just took out all the identifying information. Most people agreed to share.”

Latulippe went to all the museums around the lake to get the flavour of the surrounding communities view on Lake Nipissing, the fishery, Nipissing First Nation, looking at the relationship.

“I talked to fisherman; non-fisherman; Elders; women; men; people who would call themselves cultural people and then people who would say, ‘I’m not a cultural person’; people who used to fish but don’t anymore. I picked people who had different relationships to even the administration. And you can find evidence everywhere that people have a really strong relationship with the lake.”

Latulippe says people have rich relationships with the lake and could be shown differently.

“There is a tremendous care for the lake and also for each other, even if they don’t agree with each other. There was controversy going on at the time of my research because they were finding ghost nets in Lake Nipissing. People were very much aware of the blame that was always being hurtled at them from the non-native side. And internally, in the community, there was change in leadership and change in the policy regarding the fishery. There started to be more stringent regulations come down on their own fisherman. You had a lot of different opinions but I don’t think that took away from the relationships people had to the fish. And it didn’t take away from how strongly people felt that they had knowledge and they had authority to be on the lake. They have a presence on the lake that is inherent. They might have just expressed it differently. That’s not a problem, that’s a strength.”

Latulippe discusses John Burrows, the Anishinaabe legal scholar.

“He talks of deliberative law and deliberations as one of a number of different sources of Anishinabek law. That would be debate, discussion, persuasion and even conflict. When you have those kinds of different opinions, it’s not per se a bad thing. It is looking at law-making in action. People are having to ask themselves questions and question each other. That has always been a feature of Anishinabek or Indigenous law, or any law.”

Latulippe says the Nipissing adhere to their own governance and their own laws.

“They don’t adhere to provincial, whereas most communities do. Nipissing has taken a leadership stance and they are fine-tuning it. As the years go on, they are dealing with challenges and adjusting and improving their internal structures. They were problem-solving…A lot of time in the literature, you don’t see that written about. You don’t usually see discussion about how productive the problem-solving aspect is and how they actually do it. I see their system as very robust.”

Latulippe is now an Assistant Professor with University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Her Ph.D. advisor Deb McGregor is with York University and from White Fish River First Nation. Since the fall, Latulippe has been working on one of McGregor’s projects as a research associate.

“The Indigenous Environmental Justice Project has a great website with active news, Twitter feed, Facebook and research, check it out.”

To learn more about Fish-WIKS, visit their website: