Clayton John Moonias reaches through a heavy morning fog to grab the net he set days earlier. As he lifts the line out of the water, Moonias flashes a knowing look to his son Landon, who’s seated up front, and pulls in the first of nearly a dozen Lake Sturgeon he’ll harvest that morning.
His family has fished these waters along the Attawapiskat River in remote northern Ontario for generations. For him and others from Neskantaga First Nation, the sturgeon are a way of life.
“Sturgeon is a very important food source. It’s an important part of who we are as a nation,” Neskantaga’s chief, Wayne Moonias, says as he watches Clayton John slip another fish into a tarp on the floor of the cedar canoe. “This is what we’re fighting for,” Moonias says.
Neskantaga is an Ojibway First Nation with about 300 members living on its reserve some 400 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. The First Nation has long been among the most vocal critics of plans to build a proposed road that would connect the Ring of Fire mineral deposit to the highway networks and manufacturing might of Ontario’s south. Now, they’re working to start a sturgeon stewardship program in an effort to protect the fish from proposed development.
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