Fishing and Hunting Rights
After 797 days, Jim McLay
President of Saguingue (Saugeen) Metis Council,
a chartered community council of the
Metis Nation of Ontario,
finally has his fishing equipment back.
Ministry of Natural Resources Officer,
Robert Gibson, examines Jim McLay's
"We (the Metis) have always been able to harvest (fish and hunt) for ceremonial and special cultural events and for personal use," says McLay. "On October 28, 2005. I was fishing for our celebrations to be held the next day, when the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNO) field officials seized my nets and my equipment."
The issue of fishing and hunting by the Metis people came to a head in 1993 near Sault Ste. Marie, when Steve Powley and his son, Rod, shot a moose to be used for their family's personal consumption. They were arrested for illegal hunting.
Under the Constitution, the Metis are recognized as an aboriginal people and, as such, they feel they should be allowed the same hunting and fishing rights as the First Nation. It wasn't until 1998, that a provincial court judge ruling in the Powley case declared that the Metis people "had an aboriginal right to hunt for food".
"I have concluded that the respondents (Powley) have demonstrated that they have a significant link with the historic Metis community of Sault Ste. Marie, that they are members of that community, and that they are thereby entitled to exercise an aboriginal right to hunt for food within the hunting territory of that community,'' wrote judge Robert Sharp.
To understand the concerns of the Metis people, one has to look at their historic ties. The Metis are one of three recognized aboriginal peoples of Canada and are considered a distinct culture formed as a result of the marriages between indigenous women (for the most part) and European men. While many adopted the language and culture of both their European and aboriginal parents, most also adopted the common religion of the father and the more spiritual concepts of the mother.
The Metis culture dates back to the mid-1700s when many were employed as fur traders, voyageurs and interpreters for the Royal Mounted Police. One of the most famous was Louis Riel, leader of two rebellions in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories and, today, many well-known people lay claim to their Metis heritage: author, Sandra Birdsell; architect, Douglas Cardinal; former Prime Minister, Paul Martin (partial).
Supreme Court Ruling
Five years later, on September 19, 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld, in a landmark decision, the lower courts judgment in the Powley Metis harvesting rights case. The Supreme Court recognized that the Aboriginal rights of the Metis exist. The then-Interim President and Spokesperson for the Metis National Council, Audrey Poitras said, "The highest court of this land has finally done what Parliament and the provincial governments have refused to do and have delivered justice to the Metis people."
In July 2004, the Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) reached an historical agreement. According to McLay, the Interim Enforcement Policy (IEP) set out four agreed-upon points in recognition of the MNO Harvest Card:
"My contention is," explains McLay, "that my
equipment should never have been seized. I was fishing for a ceremonial event
just as I had the year previously. I showed my Harvest Card to the Ministry
officials and, yet, they still took what belong to me. The problem was the
Ministry had decided that the IEP only applied to Metis north of the French
River, near Sudbury, and not to anyone south of that. Unfortunately, no one told
In June, 2007, the courts declared that agreements entered into by the Crown with the Metis nation must be upheld and, therefore, the Harvest Card policy of 2004 applied to Metis both north and south of the French River.
On January 4, 2008, justice was again delivered to the Metis people when two officers, Robert Gibson and Sean Cronsbery from the Ministry of Natural Resources, delivered the seized fishing equipment back to Jim McLay in Southampton.
Gibson pointed out that, "There is a lot of learning on both sides. There are issues, not just with the Metis, but with other aboriginal groups. Our officers are continually going through training and there is no doubt that we are learning to deal with aboriginal groups and I feel that education within the Ministry has come a long way."
McLay added that, "I am hopeful this is a new beginning and that we can come to the table and work together at this level. I only wanted my children to know that I did nothing wrong and that I was acting in good faith in compliance with the government." Just as he did, 997 days ago, McLay carries his Harvesting Card.
"The one good thing I found out today," laughs McLay, "is that the 54 fish that were also seized were apparently given to a local Owen Sound charity."
Pat McArthur, author and Secretary Saugeen Metis and Archie Indoe, Vice-President, look on as Sean Cronsbery (L.) and Robert Gibson of MNR have discussion with Jim McLay
Pat McArthur(L), Archie Indoe, Cooper McLay, Metis Senator Yvonne Keenan, Jim McLay and son, Max, celebrate return of McLay's seized fishing equipment.
Visit the Metis National Council Web Site
Visit the Metis Nation Ontario Web Site