First Nations communities and organizations in Manitoba say they plan to take action to challenge current moose hunting restrictions on Treaty land, after they say a man who killed a moose to honour his dead uncle was arrested, and now faces charges.
In a joint press release on Thursday, Sapotaweyak Cree Nation (SCN) and the Swampy Cree Tribal Council (SCTC) both said they will launch a challenge to the Manitoba Moose Conservation Closure Regulation.
The regulation was enacted in 2011, and at the time was meant as a temporary hunting closure, terminating Treaty hunting rights for what the province said was the purpose of allowing the moose population to recover in Manitoba.
SCN and SCTC will put forth their challenge on behalf of SCN community member Kirk Kematch, who was arrested last fall in the northern Manitoba community after killing a moose during what SCN said was a traditional Indigenous ceremony, and has since been charged for the killing.
“On October 3, 2020, Kirk Kematch buried his uncle and then went on a ceremonial hunt, killing a moose and exercising his Treaty and Aboriginal Rights, and following the customs and traditions of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation,” the press release said “He was arrested by Natural Resource Officers.”
SCN said the charges are proof that the current regulations should not apply to First Nations communities, as they believe what Kematch was doing was lawful according to his Treaty rights.
“The charges exposed a long conflict between the Province of Manitoba and First Nations, with respect to claims of mismanagement of the wildlife population, and the province’s interference with Treaty rights,” the press release said.
“Sapotaweyak Cree Nation and Swampy Cree Tribal Council have stepped forward to defend Kematch in court, arguing that the regulation is an unconstitutional infringement on Treaty rights.”
The press release also argued that the province has done more since 2011 to cause harm to this province’s moose population than those hunting moose on First Nation land.
“Since the regulation came into effect, Manitoba permitted Louisiana Pacific to clear-cut woods and build logging roads, supported transmission lines, licensed exploration, established snowmobile trails and authorized other development, destroying moose habitat and undermining conservation efforts.
“As a result, the Moose populations have not recovered and only a limited harvest has been allowed.”
In a statement to the Winnipeg Sun, a provincial spokesperson said the province is unable to comment on specific cases before the courts, but defended the current moose hunting regulations.
“Manitoba has a responsibility to manage wildlife resources for the benefit of current and future generations of Manitobans,” the spokesperson said.
“The decision to implement moose conservation closures beginning in 2011 was made in response to significant declines in the moose population. These closures were implemented to help the moose population recover, following Crown-Indigenous consultations with affected communities.”
The province now claims they are willing to work with First Nations communities on issues regarding hunting and Treaty rights.
“Manitoba is committed to advancing a meaningful and respectful approach to shared management that works collaboratively with First Nations, Metis, landowners, and licensed hunters. Manitoba has also invited communities to nominate individuals to participate in a shared management committee,” the spokesperson 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.