By Lloyd Dolha
Two of Canada’s largest Métis organizations have denounced their prospective provincial governments over the implementation of their rights to harvest wildlife as prescribed by the Supreme Court of Canada in last September’s landmark ruling that established Métis harvesting rights as equal to other constitutionally recognized aboriginal peoples.
In defiance of a provincial directive, the Métis Nation of Ontario held a highly publicized special hunt on October 12, in a traditional Métis hunting territory south of Sudbury – an area in which the Ontario government refused to recognize the Métis’ right to hunt.
“They entered into a solemn agreement with us and at the height of the harvest [season], they unilaterally implement their interpretation of the agreement,” said Tony Belcourt, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario.
Earlier this year on July 7, the MNO and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, reached an Interim Harvesting Agreement that recognized the MNO’s Harvesting Card System.
Under the terms of the agreement, the MNO and the MNR agreed to allow Métis to harvest wildlife under the card system subject to a mutually agreeable process of research and evaluation of the MNO’s Harvester’s Certificate System. Since that time, the two parties have been at odds over the implementation of the agreement.
Then on October 7, the Ontario government sent out a press release stating they would only recognize those MNO harvester’s cards in areas north of Sudbury.
In the announcement, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsey said that any agreement with the Métis of Ontario must be consistent with the 2003 Powley decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Ramsey stressed that Métis hunting rights, as defined by Powley, belong to historically-based geographically-specific communities within certain geographic limitations. Following the announcement, Belcourt said he felt “betrayed” by the Ontario government and threatened confrontation and legal action against the MNR.
Hunting cards have been issued by the MNO since 1995 and the issue of Métis hunting rights has evolved through the Ontario courts in several hunting rights cases over the last ten years.
The Métis Nation say that their Harvester’s Certificate System is a rich source of genealogical history on Métis individuals who qualify for the right to hunt.
However, even the MNO admits in their background information that there is a need for further research due to uncertainties that have arisen due to a lack of historical with respect to the existence and continuity of Métis communities in the south and east of the province.
Regardless of the uncertainties surrounding the genealogical history of the Métis in some quarters of the province, Métis north and south of Sudbury are taking to the woods to harvest wildlife.
“We’re telling our people to go out and harvest, which they are doing, and so far there have been no charges, confiscation of equipment or meat from any of our harvesters,” said Belcourt.
In Manitoba, the arrest of a Métis hunter has the Manitoba Métis Federation also threatening direct and legal action against the province of Manitoba.
Goodon has vowed to fight the charge with the backing of the Métis federation.
“There may be a day when the resistance of the 1800s comes back to this province, where we give our lives to defend our people, ” David Chartrand, president of the MMF, in reference to the 1869 Louis Riel rebellion in Manitoba.
Chartrand was responding to the October 20 arrest of Métis Harvester Identification Cardholder Will Goodon.
Chatrand accused Premier Gary Doer of betraying the Métis people of Manitoba by reneging on an oral agreement to honour hunting cards handed out by the Métis Federation for the fall hunt.
At the annual general assembly of the Manitoba Métis Federation in late September, Premier Doer pledged that his government would follow the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Powley and respect the Métis right to hunt.
Conservation Minister Stan Struthers agreed that his department would honour the MMF Métis Harvester Identification Cards and respect the rights of the Métis.
But on October 20, respected Métis leader and chair of the Cherry Creek local of the MMF, Will Gooden met with Boissevain Conservation officers to discuss the ongoing concerns regarding the application of Métis rights in the province.
Gooden was charged with illegal possession of a migratory bird for not holding a valid provincial hunting license and both the gun and carcass ere seized by the Boissevain Department of Conservation.
“I was chair of the MMF annual general assembly. I was within ten feet of the premier when he promised to respect Métis rights and follow the Powley decision,” said Gooden.
“After hearing his message to the Métis people, I didn’t think I would have to skulk in the bush like a criminal. Métis hunters have the right to feed their families in our traditional ways. The minister has no right to play games with the lives of our people.”
Both the MMF and the Manitoba government have been at the table for months in an attempt to negotiate the scope of the Métis right to hunt.
Though an extensive consultation process with the Métis people, the MMF developed a Métis Harvesting Initiative that includes the Havester Identification Cards, a Métis Conservation Trust Fund and the Interim Métis Laws of the Harvest.
The Métis began issuing the Harvester Identification cards in early September.
At the time, Chartrand met with Minister Struthers to discuss Métis harvesting rights. During the meeting, Struthers made it clear that his department would charge cardholders if they break the law.
The minister also said the province is working on new rules for Métis hunters to bring their hunting rights more in line with First Nations rights but he did not know when the new rules would come into effect.
“We can’t ignore Powley. It’s there and it is what we have to govern by,” said Struthers. “In the meantime, there’s rules out there that the natural resources officers will, be enforcing, and we’ve been clear with that from day one.”