APTN National News
Two Anishinabe First Nations in Ontario say provincial wildlife officials should cease “harassing” their people in the woods and on the water or risk “aggravating a volatile situation.”
In a joint statement released this week, the chiefs of Batchewana and Garden River First Nations called on Premier Dalton McGuinty to recognize that his government has no “jurisdiction or authority over First Nations territory lands.”
The First Nations are upset with Ministry of Natural Resources officials who are reportedly ignoring Indian status cards and charging members with infractions in violation of the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850 which the First Nations say guarantees the right to hunt and fish.
The First Nations say ministry officers should immediately back off the moment an Indian status card is produced on lands covered by the treaty, which run between the Quebec and Manitoba borders and between Toronto and Kapuskasing, Ont.
“It could become very volatile. We have been very patient and very cooperative and respectful. Over the last little while there have been many, many charges against our people. They have had to pay money to go to court,” said Garden River Councillor Darrell Boissoneau. “This is the last straw. Our people are trying to put food on the table bringing home harvest to share with the community. They don’t need (the ministry) charging them.”
Boissoneau said ministry officers recently seized the gun of one hunter who was part of a hunting party, held him for five to six hours and then charged him with a safety violation. Garden River’s only commercial fisher is missing this year’s white fish run because his nets were seized a year ago by ministry officers who refuse to return them unless he promises not to sell his fish, he said.
“I can tell you right off the bat that his livelihood as a fisherman has been taken away from him,” said Boissoneau. “These kinds of infractions and harassments are creating an uneasy situation.”
A spokeswoman for the ministry said there were no immediate plans to change enforcement in the woods and waters.
“We will continue as we have,” said spokeswoman Joalanta Kowalski. “We are mindful and committed to meeting any existing obligations to aboriginal and treaty rights…(The ministry) is committed to fulfilling its resource management mandate and any activities that put resources or sustainable or public safety at risk we will continue act investigate them and act upon them as necessary.”
Boissoneau said several area First Nations are planning to develop a treaty defence council to deal with perceived provincial interference on treaty rights.
“We are anxiously waiting for some response from the province. We want to get dialogue,” he said.
Kowalski said the province is also willing to sit down and talk about the issue.