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Prairie Indians Call For Rights To Commercial Hunting, Trapping

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MARCH 1977      v07 n03 p09  
The right to hunt, fish and trap commercially and for food on all unoccupied Crown land is asserted by the Indian organizations of the three Prairie provinces in a jointly-prepared position paper recently released.

The paper also asserts the primacy of Indian hunting over all other hunting activity by non-Indians, whether for recreation or commercial purposes.

Indians by treaty...are only properly subject to the laws which restrict hunting in settled areas," the paper states. "Otherwise their hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering activity, whether for commercial or domestic purpose, is properly subject to no restriction by boundaries, or seasons, in terms of hunting methods or type of game."

The paper argues "treaties with prairie Indians assured the Indians continued access to the full range of benefits to be derived from wildlife utilization. These assurances constituted a guarantee that their hunting, fishing, gathering and trapping rights would always be distinct from and paramount to the rights Of non-Indians."

The three Indian organizations also insist on the right to hunt on all lands which are not actually inhabited. The latter would include game reserves, wilderness areas, and national and provincial parks.

"In the Treaties the Indian people accepted the fact that the area of land open to them for hunting and trapping would be reduced by the occupation of land by settlers. They did not accept the right of any government to unilaterally declare tracts of land as occupied if these lands were not in fact inhabited."

Parks, recreation and wildlife conservation areas are currently classified as occupied.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood and the Indian Association of Alberta prepared the paper for future submission to their respective provincial governments.

In Saskatchewan Indian hunting practices have been under study for several years by an ad hoc tri-partite committee of the FSI, the department of Indian affairs and the provincial attorney-general's department. The position paper will be submitted to this committee.

The paper is unlikely to meet with the approval of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF) which has recently called for more regulation of Indian hunting. Nor will it be found easily palatable by provincial officials in the department of tourism and renewable resources.

The department's minister Adolph Matsalla, accepts the right of Indians to hunt for food without restriction, but does not accept Indians' unrestricted right to hunt, fish or trap commercially.

According to the position paper, neither the written texts of the Treaties nor the verbal negotiations gave any indication the Indian rights would be restricted to hunting, fishing and trapping for food only.

"In fact, the treaties determined that the Indian people would be able to continue the hunting, fishing and trapping practices to which they were accustomed. That the Indian hunted and fished as a commercial activity is borne out by the records of the Hudson's Bay Company, explorers accounts, and the fact that for more than a generation after the signing of the Treaties, these activities were the chief source of revenue for most bands."

The only restrictions on hunting which the position paper says the three Indian organizations will accept, is the right of the federal government "to limit the rights of treaty Indians to harvest a particular species, and then only where the harvesting of this species by the non-Indians has been entirely prohibited."

A limitation of this kind should be ordered as "a last resort to be exercised only where proven necessary for the conservation of the species and after all other conservation measures have proven to be inadequate," the paper says.

The paper charges that by not giving priority to Indian commercial trapping and fishing, non-Indians engaged in these activities have reduced the opportunities for Indians to make them viable ways of life.

It calls on the federal and provincial governments to consult with the Indian organizations in developing "programs for the participation of Indian people in the formulation and implementation of conservation objectives."

And it urges aid for the development and stabilization of Indian commercial fishing and trapping.