As our Nation evolved throughout the great expanse called Canada, our citizens hunted, fished, and gathered plants to ensure the survival of our families.
As John Palliser remarked in 1857, “this pemmican harvest of their buffalo hunts was brought in for trade by the Indians of the Plains and the Half Breeds of Red River who organized with military discipline under their leader, the warden of the Plains, who went out on the Prairies every year on two tremendous buffalo hunts.”
The 1924 testimony of Elder Patrice Fluery noted that the location of present day Saskatoon was a primary buffalo hunting ground called “Bois de Fleche.”
As in the past, harvesting from Mother Earth remains an integral tradition of our Nation that we inherited from our ancestors. In the North, the people of the two oldest Métis communities, Île-à-la-Crosse and Cumberland House, continue to this day to provide sustenance for their families by hunting, fishing and gathering wild rice, berries and using traditional medicinal plants.
Over the past four years, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan has embarked on an ambitious process of discussions with the Government of Saskatchewan over the issue of harvesting. We are working with many institutions, groups, and the federal and provincial governments to ensure that our tradition of harvesting will continue and be practiced by future generations of Métis citizens.
In November 2010, MN-S and the Province of Saskatchewan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Métis harvesting rights. The MOU addresses the negotiation of several key actions needed for an interim and ultimately final agreement between the parties on issues regarding:
The rights of Métis harvesters are determined by four legal decisions: the Supreme Court of Canada decision, R. v. Powley (2003), and three provincial decisions, R. v. Morin & Daigneault (1966), R. v. Laviolette (2005), and R. v. Belhumeur (2007).
R. v. Powley confirmed, through section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the Métis right to harvest, while emphasizing the need to develop a more systematic method of identifying people of Métis ancestry. The MN-S response to this was the development of a secure and objectively verifiable citizenship card which proves Métis ancestry and ancestral connections to the Métis homeland. It is NOT a provincial Métis harvesting card.
Powley set out the criteria for determining who can exercise that right:
In 1996, with the R. v. Morin & Daigneault decision, the Métis of North-West Saskatchewan (those living north of the Northern Administrative District boundary) had their constitutional right to harvest for food recognized.
The release of the R. v. Laviolette decision also recognized a rights-bearing Métis community throughout North-West Saskatchewan (East from Lac la Biche to Île-à-la-Crosse, south to Green Lake, southwest to Meadow Lake, and northwest to Lac la Biche) and members of that rights-bearing Métis community can harvest throughout their traditional territory.
Despite the R. v. Belhumeur decision, in which Donald Belhumeur of Regina was found not guilty of fishing without a licence in the Qu’Appelle Valley, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment has maintained the approach that Métis food rights are unclear. This means that Métis harvesting cases will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, i.e. Métis harvesters in the southern region of the province may be charged if caught.
In summary, harvesters must be aware that:
If you decide to harvest for food, MN-S recommends that you: