A Regina provincial court judge has ruled that all First Nations people in Canada are allowed to hunt in Saskatchewan without a licence.
Before the ruling, the province only allowed hunters from treaties within Saskatchewan (Treaties 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10) to hunt for food on Crown land in the province. Any member of a First Nation outside of that area needed to have a licence.
However, in the decision, Judge D. John Kovach said that the Saskatchewan Natural Resources Transfer Agreement (NRTA) allows any Canadian treaty Indian to hunt on unoccupied Crown land.
The case stems from an incident in October 2018, where two men from the Six Nations First Nation in Ontario were charged with unlawful hunting in Moose Mountain Provincial Park.
Crown attorneys argued that the transfer agreement, which transferred jurisdiction of federal Crown land to the province, only dealt with treaty Indians that had a prior existing treaty right to hunt in the province.
However, the judge said that prior court decisions from other provinces sided with a broader view of the legislation. Any ambiguity around treaty wording is often resolved in favour of the First Nations, he said.
The Crown argued Saskatchewan was trying to preserve game for its own native community, and an expansive view would have hindered that.
“There is no evidence, even now, that we have a problem with a large number of native hunters entering to hunt within the province,” wrote Kovach. “It seems to me that this just wasn’t a big problem and certainly wasn’t something that one would allow to stand in the way of the deal.”
A secondary group of charges involving one of the co-accused and three other men dealing with illegal hunting from the Rocanville, Sask. area will be dealt with at a later date.
It’s not clear whether the province will appeal this decision.
FSIN calls it ‘vindication’ of treaty rights
Meanwhile, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said the decision was a vindication of treaty rights.
“Our treaties .. are not bound by provincial borders,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. ” We have been consistently stating this time and time again. Yesterday’s big victory for our treaty hunters proved it again.”
The provincial government has repeatedly fought against expanded hunting rights for First Nations people in the courts.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada said it would not hear the province’s appeal on the case of Kristjan Pierone, an Indigenous man from Manitoba, who shot a moose on private land near Swift Current in 2015. Pierone did not have permission from the landowner, however, the courts ruled the land was unused.
“Our message for provincial government and the justice system — don’t go there,” said Cameron. “Enough wasting taxpayers’ money. Let’s focus on the more important items.”