The fall moose hunting season in northern Manitoba kicked off with controversy this week, as Indigenous leaders continue to demand “top priority” for First Nations hunters to hunt moose for food, but say their demands have so far fallen on deaf ears from the provincial government.

According to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) an organization that represents more than two dozen northern Manitoba First Nations communities, the season for licensed moose hunting in much of the MKO region opened on Monday.

Over the weekend, MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a media release that he is now issuing his third demand in the last nine months to Premier Heather Stefanson and to other responsible ministers that the province “recognize the constitutionally-protected right of a top priority of First Nations to hunt for food.”

Settee is now calling on the province to “immediately cancel licensed moose hunting in the MKO region for all licensed moose hunting by non-Indigenous persons,” because he said existing laws give First Nations people the inherent right to hunt moose for food, and they should have full and unfettered access to those moose now that the hunting season has begun.

In a letter sent to the province last December, Settee said, “put simply, as it can readily be established through Traditional Knowledge and expert evidence, every single moose after conservation can be consumed for food by First Nations.”

The letter also stated there “cannot be any licenced hunting of moose in these areas by non-Indigenous persons for the foreseeable future,” and asked the province to “take rights seriously and accord a top priority to the Aboriginal, Treaty, NRTA and the s. 35(1) right of MKO First Nations persons to hunt for food.”

MKO says they believe the law is on their side, as according to Settee, the Manitoba Public Interest Law Center (PILC) has backed up the positions taken in MKO’s written demands.

In a statement PILC said that it had concluded that, “based on Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence dating back over 30 years, we agree with MKO that ‘First Nations have a right of top priority to hunt moose for food’ and that ‘until such time as it is confirmed that the food needs of the MKO First Nation communities are met, Manitoba must ensure the Indigenous top priority.’”

PILC also said they believe the province could be subject to legal action if MKO’s demands are not met.

“Manitoba is vulnerable to a claim of unjustifiably infringing First Nations’ right to harvest moose,” PILC said in their statement.

Settee also claimed that in a meeting with Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Alan Lagimodiere, that took place on June 7, Lagimodiere directed provincial officials to “have a conversation” with MKO about their demands, but Settee said that as of this week no conversations with MKO had been initiated or requested by the province.

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the province for a response to MKO’s comments and their demands, and in a statement a spokesperson for the province said that Natural Resources and Northern Development Greg Nesbitt was planning to reach out to MKO.

“Minister Nesbitt will be responding shortly on behalf of government,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that “moose are an iconic species with important cultural, social and economic values for many Manitobans. Moose populations in various parts of the province are under pressure from a growing number of biological threats, including disease and predation.

“The province welcomes the opportunity to engage further about right-based harvesting levels in Northern Manitoba from local Indigenous communities and MKO to support the shared goal of sustainable moose populations.”

— 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.

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