By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
This province’s most powerful Indigenous leader says she was paying close attention as the speech from the throne was delivered earlier this week, and although there were parts of the speech that left her hopeful, there were others she says gave her and others cause for concern.
The speech, which was delivered by Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville in the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday, saw the PC government offer an array of promises and commitments, but one of those commitments is already concerning to Indigenous leaders looking out for the Treaty rights of First Nations hunters across the province.
The province said they would be “revitalizing the Conservation Officer Service” by hiring more officers, and providing better equipment and technology they said would combat activities including poaching, night hunting and road hunting.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said in a statement released this week responding to the throne speech that as AMC continues to fight for the rights of hunters, she worries these new measures could lead to First Nations people being subject to increased enforcement for hunting, which she said is a right given to them under the Treaties.
“We wish to avoid an increase in the punishment of First Nations hunters by Manitoba conservation officers,” Merrick said. “The disregard for Treaty rights is a long-standing issue, as First Nations exercise their right to hunt to support their families, Elders, and communities.”
The province also promised in Tuesday’s throne speech and in other recent announcements to take more of a “tough on crime” approach to law enforcement, as they look to combat violent crime, which has been on the rise in Manitoba recently.
Merrick said she also worries how this could affect Indigenous people who already make up a disproportionate number of those involved in the criminal justice system, and those who are incarcerated in this province.
But while there are concerns, Merrick said she does see promises in the speech and from the province recently that give her hope they will do more to help the most vulnerable First Nations citizens, and those who are living on the streets.
She added AMC “appreciates” Manitoba’s first-ever homelessness strategy that was announced earlier this year, and will see several new initiatives to fight homelessness, and see increased money go towards warming shelters for the homeless that Merrick said “many of our First Nation relatives utilize.”
“As the cold weather escalates into freezing conditions, we will continue to work with Manitoba, the private sector, and other First Nation and Indigenous partners to address this critical issue that the pandemic has exacerbated,” Merrick said.
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.