Indigenous hunters say they are being harassed and bullied by Saskatchewan authorities who don't understand their treaty right to provide food for their families.
The chief of Pine Creek First Nation said Wednesday that conservation officers raided two homes last month and confiscated moose meat harvested from Pine Creek's traditional territory, which crosses the Manitoba-Saskatchewan boundary.
Charlie Boucher said no charges have been laid, but his people are being denied their inherent right to feed their families. Indigenous people were hunting on the land long before Canada or its provinces existed, he said.
"The Creator gave me that authority to harvest and take," Boucher said. "I beg for us to be understood."
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said aboriginal hunters have been ticketed with non-compliance orders and harassed by farmers who feel the men have been trespassing for decades.
He said the two Pine Creek reserve homes were raided Dec. 15 — the same day the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report.
"This has to stop," he said. "This is an age of reconciliation."
Diabetes rates are soaring among First Nations, Nepinak said, yet his people are being denied access to traditional, healthy food. At the same time, Saskatchewan hands out thousands of moose tags to sport hunters every year, he added.
"The Saskatchewan government is actively encouraging people to take down 6,000 moose for sport hunting every year, but meanwhile they are out there harassing our hunters that come from the treaty territories."
Jamie Gibson, a spokesperson for Saskatchewan's Environment Ministry, said "we cannot comment on any part of the investigation at this time."
Ken Aube, the ministry's chief enforcement and investigations officer, said the province recognizes the indigenous right to hunt on Crown land or on private property with a landowner's permission.
Charges might be laid, however, if a hunter — aboriginal or not — were to harvest animals from someone's private property without permission.
"If a First Nations person is hunting on private land without permission, that means they don't have access to the land and their treaty rights wouldn't apply," Aube said. "They would be subject to prosecution."
Christina Cook, lawyer for the indigenous hunters, said their case would be fairly straightforward if it were to go to court, given the way judges consider indigenous rights and that the hunters were within their traditional treaty territory.
"It's a clear and unjustified infringement by the province of Saskatchewan on these hunters' aboriginal and treaty rights."
Kevin Hart, Manitoba regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, said he's disgusted by the "silent war" on the rights of his people. Hart said, as long as he can remember, he has hunted and gathered in various territories including Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
At times, Hart said, he was accompanied by Manitoba deputy premier Eric Robinson.
"We've exercised our rights to hunt on the land," Hart said. "It's very disturbing in this day and age that our inherent and treaty rights are being infringed upon."