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Will more Metis take to the woods because of Powley?

A growing number of hunting and fishing organizations are raising the alarm over the implementation of Metis harvesting rights.

Recent articles in the mainstream press have expressed displeasure with harvesting agreements being signed by the provinces with Metis organizations, claiming these agreements are unregulated and will lead to over-hunting and fishing of Canada's wildlife.

In 1982, the federal government in the Constitution Act recognized the Metis people as a distinct Aboriginal group with inherent rights. However, Metis people continued to be charged with criminal offences for hunting and fishing not done in accordance with provincial laws.

It was not until the Supreme Court of Canada Powley decision in 2003 that the right of the Metis to engage in subsistence hunting and fishing was affirmed. It is the Powley decision that has led to harvesting agreements in Ontario and Alberta between the provincial governments and Metis governing bodies. More harvesting agreements with other provincial governments are expected.

Randy Collins, president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association (AFGA), has come out publicly against the Metis interim harvesting agreements forged between the province and the Metis Nation of Alberta and the Metis Settlements General Council.

In a Canadian Press article dated April 17 entitiled "Alberta conservationists worry wildlife, fish at risk from Metis hunting deal," Collins was quoted as saying "We are concerned that this agreement opens the doors to the unregulated harvesting of Alberta's wildlife.

"We are concerned when anyone is given the right to take unlimited quantities of fish or game, or to disregard seasonal restrictions which are in place to ensure their long-term survival."

Gerald Cunningham, vice-president of the Metis Settlements General Council, addressed Collins contention that Metis harvesting rights are unrestricted.

"Outside of settlement boundaries, we can hunt on lands that are known as the harvesting lands. What that means is all unoccupied provincial Crown lands, provincial protected areas, provincial occupied lands that have designated areas for hunting and fishing, trapping as the case may be, and any privately owned lands in Alberta where our members have been given permission by the owner or occupant to fish or hunt," said Cunningham.

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Cunningham said the interim agreement does not supercede provincial conservation laws.

We are subject to any closures or restrictions that the province has. It is not as though we can go out and hunt any time or place we want. We still have to abide by Alberta's laws," said Cunningham.

He said the harvesting agreement is only interim and was put in place for the hunting season last year. A long-term agreement still needs to be settled.

Windspeaker contacted Collins to ask him to state more specifically why his organization thinks that hunting is going to increase because of Metis harvesting agreements, and why wildlife is in danger.

Collins conceded that while there are almost 100,000 registered hunters in Alberta, he does not know how many Metis hunt in the province. He claims the Metis Nation of Alberta has told him that they have approximately 3,000 members that hunt.

"The actual number of Metis that hunt in Alberta is probably pretty small," said Collins.

Collins contends, however, the recognition of Metis harvesting rights is going to lead Metis who have never hunted before, who he calls city dwellers, to go out and start to hunt, creating more hunters.

"According to the Powley decision, they can't," said Martin Dunn, national co-ordinator of the Powley Implementation Project for the Congress of Aboriginal People (CAP).

"There are two conditions that Metis must meet for that. One is descendency from a historic Metis community. The second is that community must be continuous into the present," said Dunn.

Dunn said the Powley decision is so restrictive that most Metis cannot meet the requirements for harvesting rights.

The Alberta Fish and Game Association, for whatever reason, lacked this information when forming their position. This lack of information is apparent in a survey they commissioned in which Albertans were asked the question: "Do you have concerns about the long-term effects on our wildlife populations if unlimited, year-round fishing and hunting by Metis people is granted?"

Not surprisingly, 77 per cent of the 800 people surveyed responded that they had concerns.

The survey also asked Albertans to give a mandate to the association to negotiate with the government and the Metis Nation of Alberta on a long-term harvesting agreement.

Trevor Gladue, vice-president of the Metis Nation of Alberta, responded.

"It is the position of the Metis Nation of Alberta that we are a Metis government and that our negotiations are government-to-government based. The AFGA is a lobby group ... that has every right to express their opinion. However, we don't feel that it is necessary for them to be sitting at the table negotiating with us an inherent right specific to the Metis people of Alberta and of Canada."

Windspeaker contacted the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has a Metis harvesting agreement with the Metis Nation of Ontario. Spokesperson Robert Pye of OFAH said he would not assume that the Metis harvesting agreement in Ontario is leading to increased hunting and fishing, and that while it is still early into the agreement, there has not been any indication of such a situation to date. He also said that OFAH supports the Supreme Court decision to recognize Metis harvesting rights.

The Canadian Press article that quoted the AFGA included comments from an unnamed Alberta Fish and Wildlife officer that accused Metis of intending to violate Alberta law.

"We've had people advise us they intend to go out and shoot goats. We've had people advise us of their intention to shoot caribou, which of course are threatened in Alberta," said the unnamed source.

The article went on to say that there have been unconfirmed reports of Metis shooting pregnant game.

Martin Dunn of CAP responded to this claim.

"I could turn around and say the same thing of white hunters. What this kind of rhetoric does is generate negative reaction to Metis, and it exposes the weakness of their case, that the Aboriginal right of the Metis to hunt for food should not be recognized. If that is the best that they can do, lots of luck," said Dunn.

The article also quoted their unnamed wildlife officer as saying that Metis hunters are shooting Big Horn Sheep just for their horns.

"There has been a large number of trophy Big Horn Sheep that have been killed by Metis since the agreement was put in place under the guise of subsistence rights."

Windspeaker contacted Alberta Sustainable Resources, the government department in charge of the province's fish and wildlife officers. Spokesperson Dave Ealey would not comment on unconfirmed reports from the unnamed officer, but he did say that last hunting season after the Metis interim harvesting agreement was put into place, 145 Big Horn Sheep were taken in Alberta. Of the 145, only seven where taken by hunters declaring themselves to be Metis.

Ealey also said Alberta Sustainable Resources was involved in the negotiations leading to the interim agreement and was happy with it.

Alberta Fish and Wildlife has posted a position paper on its Web site. It makes the following judgement about the interim harvesting agreement in Alberta:

"It will reduce the opportunities of non-Metis Albertans to use fish and wildlife."

That statement would suggest that AFGA's real concern about the Metis harvesting right is not about the imagined threat it poses to conservation of the resource, but the competition it creates for wildlife resources between races.

The Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) is trying to negotiate a harvesting agreement with the Manitoba government similar to the one that is in place in Alberta.

David Chartrand, president of the MMF, cannot understand concerns about Metis harvesting, considering that the government and hunting organizations in general are trying to encourage more young people to take up the practice.

Chartrand cites statistics from Autopac, the Manitoba government's insurance company, which reports that auto accidents involving wildlife are up substantially. In the last five to six years, wildlife accident claims have increased by $18 million, suggesting that hunting is in decline.

Chartrand sees the issue of Metis harvesting not as a competition for wildlife resources with non-Aboriginal harvesters, but as recognition of Aboriginal rights for the Metis people.

"Right now we do not record what we take," Chartrand candidly admitted.

A Metis harvesting agreement would lead to more accurate reporting to government of harvesting activities by Metis hunters and fishermen, he said.

"They (the Manitoba government) are aware of this," he said.

In British Columbia, the Metis Provincial Council of British Columbia (MPCBC) won a major harvesting rights case in April. The Willison decision recognized there exists a traditional Metis community in what it calls the 'Environs of Falkland' in the B.C. interior in the area of Kamloops and the Okanagan.

Keith Henry, executive director of the MPCBC, said he does not think the decision will lead to an increase in hunting and fishing as most MPCBC members are part of the licensing regime in B.C. and have been hunting all their lives.

Harvey said the decision is important because it recognizes Metis exist in British Columbia.

By George Young

Windspeaker Staff Writer

EDMONTON
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Title Annotation:canadian classroom
Author:Young, George
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:1545
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