Manitoba grand chief wants meeting with Saskatchewan premier over hunting rights

WINNIPEG -- A Manitoba grand chief is calling for a meeting with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall after accusing the province of harassing indigenous hunters.

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Derek Nepinak with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has written a letter to Wall outlining concerns over hunters, who the chief says have been ticketed and threatened by Saskatchewan officials.

"These actions have been taken as harassment, bullying and outside the scope of authority of provincial government employees," he wrote in a letter released Thursday. "These tactics are being employed by men and women bearing arms and wearing the crest of the province of Saskatchewan in the commissioning of their activities."

The chief of the Pine Creek First Nation has said officers raided two homes last month and confiscated moose meat harvested from their traditional territory, which crosses the Manitoba-Saskatchewan boundary. Nepinak said it happened the day the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report.

Saskatchewan officials have said they recognize the rights of indigenous hunters and would only step in if hunters were on private land without permission.

The law is clear -- indigenous hunters have the right to feed their families by traditional means, Nepinak said.

"I would like to extend to you the opportunity to meet with Indigenous leadership to begin a discussion about deconstructing the colonial legal and regulatory regimes of the past and begin moving in the direction of truth and reconciliation," he wrote to Wall.

"To this end, I will always be personally open to meet with you."

Wall was not immediately available to comment on the letter.

When asked about the issue last week, the premier said he categorically rejected some of the allegations that have been made by the chiefs. Treaty rights don't trump private property rights or the need for a province to manage its wildlife, he said.

"Whether you have a treaty card or not, you still need the permission of the landowner to hunt on private property," Wall said. "Our officials have been very careful to make sure they're never enforcing anything beyond what's enforceable. We respect treaty rights, but there are certain things that treaty rights do not trump when it comes to hunting."

Nepinak dismissed the argument that Saskatchewan is trying to conserve its moose population. Saskatchewan hands out 6,000 moose tags to sport hunters every year, but allows officials to bully and harass indigenous people who are trying to feed their families, he said.

"There is a correlation between a growing limitation of access to our traditional food sources and the explosion of diabetes to epidemic levels in our families," Nepinak wrote. "As such, the ability of a hunter to bring home natural foods to their families is critical to the health of the family."

-- With files from Jennifer Graham in Regina


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