By Miranda Leybourne
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Manitoba Metis Federation is accusing the provincial government of using “scare tactics” to dissuade Metis citizens from harvesting bull moose ahead of the upcoming hunting season.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” Will Goodon, a Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) minister and a harvester himself, said about the way he believes the government has approached Metis harvesting rights. “I think it’s at a point where the province needs to stop thinking about politics and start thinking about what’s right.”
As the Sun reported yesterday, on Oct. 17 the MMF will reopen the Duck and Porcupine mountains, located north of Brandon, for the limited hunting of bull moose, which does not include cows, calves or yearlings.
That same day, the MMF will hold a lottery-style draw for 26 moose hunting tags. Each tag will be specific to an area in the mountains, with a total of 16 tags being issued for the Duck Mountains and 10 for the Porcupine Mountains.
It’s the federation’s third annual moose conservation harvesting initiative in areas that were closed to hunting about 10 years ago.
Goodon alleged that in the past two years, the province hasn’t co-operated in protecting the rights of the hunters who take part.
Three years ago, when the first hunt was announced, the province agreed to it, but only on the condition that non-Indigenous hunters could take part in the harvest as well, he said.
“That goes against a Supreme Court ruling. That goes against the constitution of the country,” Goodon said.
According to the Metis Nation of Alberta’s website, Metis nations in Canada have succeeded in bringing three cases forward to the Supreme Court of Canada: Daniels vs. Canada in 2016; R. vs. Powley in 2003; and the MMF vs. Canada in 2013.
In a unanimous decision in 2003, the Supreme Court confirmed the constitutional protection of the harvesting rights of the Metis. The province’s insistence that non-Indigenous people be included in the MMF’s harvest initiative flies in the face of that decision, Goodon said.
Hunting in the Duck and Porcupine mountains has been closed since
2011 to protect the “threatened” moose population and allow it to recover, a provincial spokesperson told the Sun in an email. The closure was implemented after “extensive” consultations with Indigenous communities.
“Since that time, the moose population has started to recover, but it remains at risk,” the provincial spokesperson wrote.
In 2018, the province launched a consultation-based shared management process to develop a long-term framework for reopening expanded and sustainable hunting.
Pending the long-term framework, and to balance necessary conservation measures with interim hunting, opportunities that the statement said respects the importance of First Nation and Metis rights-based harvesting, the government has made a “limited” fall moose hunt available for Indigenous communities that obtain proper authorization.
“Despite the availability of interim harvesting opportunities for Indigenous communities, the MMF is proposing to proceed unilaterally by issuing its own hunting tags, recognizing that this could lead to charges for illegally killed moose,” the provincial spokesperson wrote.
Manitoba Conservation officers, the statement said, have “responsibilities” to investigate and enforce the province’s moose conservation closure and ask for the assistance of local RCMP where required.
“Any individuals illegally hunting moose are charged and released on appearance notices, and the moose and their firearms may be seized.”
During the MMF’s inaugural harvest lottery, Goodon said, the province threatened to confiscate Metis hunters’ guns.
“It was a big scare tactic because they couldn’t even bother to hire conservation officers to go out and watch what’s going on,” Goodon said.
While the first hunt was successful, Goodon said, the number of harvesters that participated the following year dwindled due to the province’s threats.
In a story previously reported by the Sun in August, the MMF announced that apparent charges against three hunters were a violation of their rights as Metis people.
Neither the MMF nor the province have disclosed what the hunters were charged with, and their nature remains unclear. However, firearms were seized from three Red River Metis citizens who were hunting with tags under the federation’s 2021-22 hunt in the Duck and Porcupine mountains.
A specific date of the incident wasn’t disclosed, and the MMF said the hunters wished to remain anonymous “out of concern for the potential ramifications.”
The firearms were returned to the hunters in August. However, according to the federation, the alleged charges against the hunters haven’t been dropped.
At the time of one incident, an RCMP spokesperson told the Sun that Mounties initially took a male into custody. He was then turned over to Manitoba Conservation officers, as it dealt with a moose being shot “from/near the road.”
“It wasn’t a criminal matter but a provincial one, so Manitoba Conservation took carriage of the investigation,” the spokesperson said.
In the three years that have passed since, there hasn’t been much improvement, Goodon said, alleging that the province has not been “forthcoming” in communications with the MMF, pointing to larger issues within the Manitoba government.
“They don’t believe in Metis hunting rights. Well, it’s not whether you believe in it or not, they’re there,” Goodon said.
“It’s not a matter of believing in them, it’s a matter of working with the Metis government to find ways so that everybody can move forward.
“The law is very clear. They need to talk to us, they need to include us in the decision-making, and they need to understand that we are a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.”
Miranda Leybourne is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter who works for the BRANDON SUN. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.