Bioethics Blogs

From fish lives to fish law: learning to see Indigenous legal orders in Canada by Zoe Todd

“The necessity of respecting game is still widely acknowledged by Inuit. The awareness, that the continuity of society depends on the maintenance of correct relationships with animals and the land, is still very strong.” (Aupilaarjuk et al. 1999: 2)

In 2012, I spent eight months living and working in the Inuvialuit hamlet of Paulatuuq, which is situated on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. I was interested in people’s relationships to fish, and how fishing relationships were being asserted within the community in the face of cumulative colonial and environmental impacts, including looming mining interests, affecting the region. My first two degrees are in Biology and Rural Sociology and when I started ethnographic work in Paulatuuq, I still saw the relationships between humans and their environments with colonial eyes: fish were food, fish were specimens, fish were inputs in surveys and dry policy documents.

Ice-fishing in Paulatuuq at Dennis Lake, June 2012

I knew better than to see fish this way. I grew up fishing with my parents and sisters on Baptiste Lake in north-central Alberta through the 1980s and 1990s. I swam with the fish in that green prairie kettle lake every summer throughout my entire childhood. I dreamt about fish and their fish-lives beneath the inscrutable, rippled lake-surface. I squealed with joy at the silver flash of minnows in the shallows on lazy July days and, for many dinners through my adolescence, we ate fish my step-dad caught in the Red Deer River, Pepper’s Lake, and on his own re-watered wetland in central Alberta.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.