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MNA will take court action if government refuses to move on harvesting policy

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







August 22, 2016.

The Metis Nation of Alberta is taking the provincial government to task over what it considers an “ongoing delay (that) is deeply concerning” over changes to the Metis Harvesting Policy.

In a strongly worded four-page letter sent Friday to Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, MNA President Audrey Poitras states, “This issue is more than an “irritant” for our people. It is a wound that requires renewed negotiations and a collaborative solution. If not, reconciliation between the provincial Crown and Metis in this province will not begin in earnest.”

At the annual general meeting held earlier this month, the MNA membership passed a unanimous resolution authorizing the MNA to continue negotiations with the government for a new harvesting policy and, if the government refuses to negotiate, the MNA is “authorized to develop and pursue strategic litigation.”

Poitras says court action is not the preferred route for the MNA and she would view that method of resolution as a failure on the parts of both her organization and the province.

The existing Metis Harvesting Policy restricts Metis harvesters to an area within 160 km of the harvester’s community (which the province accepts as the eight Metis settlements and 17 communities, all of which are located in northern Alberta). Harvesters must either prove they have an Aboriginal right to fish or hunt or obtain the necessary fishing or hunting licenses.

This policy, said Poitras in her letter, “keeps many of our people frustrated and unable to practise their traditional way of life without fear of prosecution….The tensions … continue to fester and are increasingly exacerbated since our harvester are regularly frustrated, harassed or charged by your Ministry.”

Poitras says she has sent correspondence dated March 18 and June 20 outlining ways to move forward collaboratively on the issue of harvesting. The department has not responded either time.

Poitras points out that ministerial special representative Tom Isaac noted in his recent report to the federal government on reconciliation with the Metis people that the current Alberta government’s harvesting policy continued to put a strain on the relationship with the province’s Metis.

Isaac referenced the 2004 Interim Metis Harvesting Agreement, which recognized the Metis right to harvest for food without a licence at all times of the year on all unoccupied Crown lands. That policy was replaced in 2007 by the existing policy.

Poitras requested a meeting with both Phillips and Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan.

“We are open to any suggested approach that will make progress on this file, however, the status quo is not an option for the MNA,” said Poitras.

The last time Poitras met with Phillips was over six months ago.

The Department of Environment and Parks did not respond to requests from Sweetgrass for comments.