Metis harvesting rights; the need versus the reality
- NC Raine | April 24, 2023
Every year, traditional bow hunter Garrick Schmidt gives away hundreds of pounds of meat to community members and Elders.
Every part of the animal is used – the meat is eaten, the hides are used for drums, rattles, moccasins and vests while the bones are made into tools. These traditional skills in hunting and harvesting animals are then passed down to younger generations to learn the art of responsible hunting and harvesting.
Despite the significant and far-reaching benefit to the community, Schmidt, who is Metis, faces extensive restrictions and potential five-figure fines for exercising his inherent right to hunt.
“I know that in the northern area of the province, there are recognized harvesting rights, but down south it’s a challenge,” said Schmidt. “There are no recognized harvesting rights, but we still need to provide for our families.”
Currently, court decisions have allowed Metis people to hunt on land in specific, traditionally used areas of the province.
“I know of people who have received $10,000 fines for hunting (in the southern region) without tags or permits,” he said.
Currently, Metis people exercising their right to harvest must identify as Metis, be ancestrally connected to a historic Metis community, and be accepted as a member of a modern Metis community that has evolved from a historic Metis settlement.
A 1996 court decision recognized Metis people’s constitutional right to harvest food for those living in the Northern Administrative District Boundary. But, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment has maintained the approach that Metis food rights are unclear. This means Metis harvesting cases will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and Metis harvesters in the southern region of the province may be charged if caught.
“We need recognized hunting rights for the whole province, not just in the north,” said Schmidt. “Harvesting rights should be dependent on the size of your family. If you are providing for a family of five, you should be allowed a certain amount of animals to harvest... We need to be able to harvest for our families without worrying about being slapped with a $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 fine.”
In March, the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) announced the reformation of the Harvesting Advisory working group.
“The MN–S government in Saskatchewan recognizes the importance of harvesting among Metis people across the province,” said MN–S Vice President and Minister of Justice, Michelle LeClair in a statement. “We remain dedicated to reaching an agreement that supports the ability of our citizens to provide sustenance for their families. We want to engage more of our citizens in the process to ensure we are laying a good foundation for the future.”
LeClair acknowledged the frustrations of citizens due to the limited recognition of Metis harvesting rights and regulations across the province.
In 2019, the MN-S reaffirmed an agreement with the province, signed almost a decade prior, committing to officially recognizing and respecting Metis rights to hunt and fish across the province.
Despite the pace to which these discussions have taken since the initial MOU signing, Schmidt remains hopeful.
“I think if they have changed the advisory board with new members who are more active in harvesting, maybe it will help speed things up,” said Schmidt. “I think the steps the MN-S are taking are in the right direction. I’m hopeful that everything will be signed and ready to go by summer.”