Indigenous leaders in Saskatchewan are calling the recent government sting of a Canoe Lake Cree First Nation man who sold fish a “waste of [government] resources to fight First Nations exercising their Inherent and Treaty Rights.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron says the provincial government’s undercover sting operation that resulted in the conviction of Donald Iron, a Canoe Lake band member, last month shows government is more interested in ignoring treaty rights than dealing with more serious issues.
“Hunting and fishing is a fundamental Treaty and Inherent Right and it was common for First Nations people to barter and exchange their resources,” Cameron said.
Iron was charged with three counts of illegally marketing fish after a conservation officer bartered tobacco for fish with the Cree man, and then made multiple purchases from Iron for white fish totalling $90.
“There are far more important issues to combat than a 16-month sting for $90 worth of fish,” Cameron said, adding government should be allocating resources to “arresting crystal meth and opioid dealers, who have created epidemics in our communities.
“Why aren’t these resources being better utilized fighting the highest drunk driving offences, the highest domestic violence offences or even the highest rates of youth smokers in the country?” he said.
Cameron said fishing is a “fundamental Treaty and inherent right [that] First Nations people have.”
“Our people have lived off the land, providing for their families and communities for generations, yet governments in this country continue to legislate what we can and cannot do on our own lands.”
Canoe Lake Chief Francis Iron says the way Donald Iron “asked for an exchange of tobacco for fish…is the right protocol in our culture and community,” adding they will “continue to fight for the rights of our band members.”
Meadow Lake Tribal Council Chief Richard Ben said in Wednesday’s FSIN release that “traditional land users have the right to provide for their families, without harassment, as they have done for generations in the North,” and that “many people in our communities rely on traditional practices like hunting and fishing for survival.
“These resources should be better utilized for the benefit of the people and not prosecuting our traditional land users,” Ben added.
FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear compared the sting to the province “[sending] in the cavalry to bust an Indian over $90 worth of fish.
She said the treaties “recognized that we have the right to pursue our usual vocations of hunting, fishing, and trapping,” but that the Saskatchewan government “continues to try to legislate away our rights.
“It is unjust and unfair to Treaty hunters and fishers that merely want to feed their families,” she said.
Cameron said he expects the “harassment of First Nations traditional land users” to escalate, especially in light of the fact conservation officers in the province are expected to soon be armed with semi-automatic carbine rifles.
Iron’s sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 14.