MKO Defends First Nations’ Subsistence Hunting in Manitoba

Image Credit, Dansk

In response to a recent CBC article, “Delay in moose, elk draws leads to licencing uncertainty for some Manitoba hunters,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. Grand Chief Garrison Settee has made a strong statement reaffirming the First Nations’ established legal right to priority hunting and fishing for sustenance in Manitoba.

Grand Chief Settee emphasized, “MKO wants to set the record straight and help all Manitobans understand that our First Nation right of top priority to harvest game and fish for food and for support and subsistence is the established law in Canada.”

The Chief elaborated on the historical and legal foundations of these rights, stating, “The First Nation right of top priority flows from the Crown’s Treaty promise that Nations ‘shall have right to pursue their avocations of hunting and fishing throughout the tract surrendered.’ This Treaty harvesting promise has been constitutionally reinforced twice over the past 94 years. Firstly, through the Manitoba Natural Resources Act of 1930, which constitutionally obligates Manitoba to ‘secure to the Indians of the province the continuance of the supply of game and fish.’ Secondly, through section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, which recognizes and affirms First Nations’ rights.”

For more than two years, MKO, along with Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Pimicikamak Okimawin, and more recently Misipawistik Cree Nation, have been urging the Manitoba government to uphold these constitutional laws and ensure that First Nations can exercise their priority rights to hunt and fish for sustenance.

Chief Heidi Cook of the Misipawistik Cree Nation expressed concern over the mismanagement of moose habitats and populations in southern Manitoba, leading to severe restrictions and closures. “We cannot feed our families by hunting and fishing as promised by the Treaty. We do not want this to spread even further into northern Manitoba,” said Chief Cook.

Chief Nelson Genaille of the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation underscored the distinction between the treaty rights of First Nations and the privileges of licensed hunters, stating, “Licensed hunters exercise a legislative discretionary privilege that may, or may not, be granted by Manitoba. There is no legislation that the province of Manitoba can enact that would place the legislative privileges of licensed hunters on a level equivalent to the Treaty right of top priority of our First Nations to hunt for food.”

Genaille also referenced a 1962 Manitoba Court of Appeal decision which held that the province’s wildlife laws are subordinate to Manitoba’s obligations under the Manitoba Natural Resources Act of 1930. “Manitoba has an obligation to take concrete steps to ensure that our First Nations can exercise our right to hunt for food,” he added.

Chief David Monias of Pimicikamak Okimawin called for stronger treaty, contractual, and environmental protections, particularly in relation to the 1977 Northern Flood Agreement. “We believe in habitat restoration and sustainable hunting practices reflecting our Customary Laws of the duty of stewardship. We also call on the Manitoba government to honour and adhere to the constitutional laws of Canada and Manitoba’s commitments in the Northern Flood Agreement to preserve moose populations for future generations.”

Grand Chief Settee concluded by citing the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1990 decision in R. v. Sparrow, which underscored the constitutional nature of First Nations’ fishing rights, stating, “The top priority set out in the Sparrow decision also applies to game such as moose.”

Chief Genaille stated, “Manitoba has not taken steps to determine that the food needs of First Nations have been met. Manitoba may not lawfully issue any licenses or tags to anyone to hunt moose within Sapotaweyak Cree Nation’s Traditional Territory.”

Chief Cook emphasized the need for collaborative habitat management and impact reduction efforts to ensure that First Nations’ food needs are met while allowing for sustainable licensed hunting.

Grand Chief Settee expressed gratitude to Premier Kinew and the Province of Manitoba for engaging with First Nations to protect these constitutionally protected rights and ensure sustainable resource management.