Alberta Metis Leaders Challenge Minister’s Efforts To Circumvent Metis Hunting Agreement

By Clint Buehler

EDMONTON – The leaders of the Alberta Metis are not buying the efforts of the province’s Minister of Sustainable Resources to subvert Metis constitutional hunting rights—confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Powley case in Ontario—by instituting policies that grant hunting rights to all Albertans whose circumstances justify them to hunt wild game to feed their families. Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) President Audrey Poitras says Alberta Sustainable Resources Minister Ted Morton’s new policy “misses the mark.

In December, Morton announced changes to Alberta’s hunting subsistence license, a special license for Albertans who rely on moose, elk or deer to feed themselves or their families, that he hoped would be viewed as a “gesture of goodwill” by Metis hunters who had protested his scrapping of an Interim Metis Hunting Agreement (IMHA) the MNA had negotiated with his predecessor.

In July 2007, Morton replaced the IMHA with the subsistence hunting licenses that were only available to people living north of Highway 16 and outside of towns and cities, and could only be used in winter. And government officials would decide who qualified for the licenses.

With the rule changes in December, the license may now be used anywhere in the province, any time of year. The new rules were also criticized by MNA Vice-President Trevor Gladue, who said they were “a slap in the face of the needy. “It sends a poor message to Albertans at large that if you are really poor and really hungry you can run out in to the bush and try to shoot something.

“I don’t know how many people who are really poor or really hungry first of all can afford to go and get a FAC (firearm acquisition certificate), to go get (rifle) shells, to get in a vehicle and get the gas to drive out to the bush to get a moose or a deer. It’s really sent a poor message to the poor people.”

Alberta’s Metis have been fighting to hunt year-round, arguing that it’s their Constitutional right, just like other Aboriginal people.

That, he says, is an inherent right of the Metis and this latest change is only a misstep in the right direction to restoring the year-round hunts.

Hunters who fought against the Metis don’t have a problem with letting poor people do the same.

“Metis do not have constitutionally protected harvesting rights because we are poor or handicapped. We have these rights because harvesting is integral to our unique culture as an Aboriginal people. Harvesting has been an historic tradition of our people since before Canada was formed,” Poitras says.

“Our people continue this practice today as a means of sustaining our distinct identity and nurturing our special relationship to the land. That is why our rights are protected in Canada’s Constitution.

“Based on this constitutional recognition, the Alberta government has an obligation to accommodate our rights within its fish and wildlife laws. The Supreme Court has said these accommodations cannot be arbitrary or discretionary..”

Naturally, :Poitras says, “since our rights are affected, we must be involved in how these accommodations are arrived at. In order to avoid conflict and costly litigation, partnership and compromise is required on all sides.”

Poitras says the Metis Nation has consistently shown its willingness to work in collaboration with the province to arrive at a mutually agreeable accommodation.

“In September 2004 we signed the Interim Metis Harvesting Agreement with the province that worked well for more than two years. In August 2005, we agreed to renewed negotiations towards a final agreement. In May 2007, we arrived at points of agreement with Guy Boutilier, the minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who led these renewed discussions on behalf of the Alberta government.

“Unfortunately, these joint points of agreement were rejected by Morton, and he implemented a unilateral harvesting policy effective July 1, 2007.”

As a result, Poitras says, the Metis Nation is defending its harvester against Alberta’s “unconstitutional laws and policies” in the courts.

“The Metis, as taxpayers and citizens of this province, believe in, support and abide by Alberta’s laws. However, Alberta’s laws must accommodate our harvesting rights in order to be constitutional.

“Metis rights have been recognized in Canada’s Constitution for more than 25 years, but our harvesters are still treated like criminals when they are exercising constitutionally protected rights. Understandably, our people become frustrated when they see politics trump our rights.”

Poitras says challenging Alberta’s laws in court is not the MNA’s preferred choice in resolving this issue, but “what other option do we have when negotiated points of agreement are ignored and Metis harvesters are being charged?”

The managing director of the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society says the change makes sense. He admits only a small percent of the population, mostly in remote areas, would make use of it.

“I don’t see someone from inner-city Edmonton being equipped and knowledgeable enough to go hunting,” said Colin Reichle. Subsistence hunting isn’t a bad idea, said Todd Loewen, owner of Valleyview’s Red Willow Outfitters. However, he added that hardly anyone relies on game as their sole supply of meat.

“There’s very, very, very few anymore,” said Loewen. “I think with all our social programs and everything we have, it’s not done. I’m sure there are some families that could use it, but it’s very limited.”

Reichle said hunters were upset about the old Metis agreement because there was no reporting mechanism to determine how many animals were being hunted. Gladue said last summer the Metis Nation of Alberta drew up its own policy for a self-regulated hunt where tags would be issued to Metis.

Loewen said he would want to see the new hunting rules limited to does. That would prevent people abusing the system by using it for trophy-hunting males and not for subsistence. Deer are also in overabundance right now, he said.