Recent History – 1998
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff, Dec. 22, 1998
Local Metis leader Fred House is welcoming as good news an Ontario judge’s ruling that the province’s Metis have hunting and fishing rights under the Constitution.
“Finally the Metis are being recognized as they are in the Constitution, as aboriginal people,” he said. “It could be a new beginning for the Metis to where we’d have access to the same participation as the First Nations people.”
The ruling came in the case of two men charged in 1993 under Ontario’s Game and Fish Act with unlawfully hunting and possessing moose. The issue was not whether the two men had possession of a bull moose –the defence had conceded they did — but whether the Metis, people of mixed Indian and European blood, have the right to hunt for food under the Constitution Act.
In dismissing the charges against Steve Powley, 49 and his 24-year-old son Roddy, Judge Charles Vaillancourt from the Ontario Court, provincial division, ruled that they do indeed have such rights. “Ontario’s Game and Fish Act violates their aboriginal right to hunt moose and other game,” Vaillancourt ruled.
“The Metis’ right to hunt is derived from their customs, traditions and practices,” the judge said in his 90-minute ruling. “Hunting, including the hunting of moose, was and continues to be part of their culture.” But Vaillancourt said Metis now have to “skulk through the forests like criminals as opposed to hunters exercising their constitutional rights.”
Defence lawyer Clayton Ruby described the judgment as the “first declaration of Metis rights” in Ontario.
In answer to concerns that such a right might be abused, House said, a conservation system would have to be put in place to ensure that people only hunt to put meat on their table. “I’d be a great advocate for ensuring that wild meat was not wasted, that people only hunt for need, not for greed,” he said.
Wild meat is often a supplement to aboriginal diets, House said, particularly among the elderly people. “My grandma used to say that if she ate pork chops they didn’t really seem like meat. She wanted that wild taste, that’s the way she was brought up.”
House has been involved in Metis politics for more than 30 years. Currently he’s a lobbyist and public relations person for the Northeast Aboriginal Council.
The Metis issue has long been simmering in Saskatchewan as well as Ontario.
In May, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal set aside a ruling that Metis did have the same hunting rights as status Indians in the province, where the issue of Metis hunting rights has been a hot topic.
Along with Inuit and Indians, the Metis are constitutionally recognized as aboriginal people. But unlike status Indians, they have no legislated right to federal government support, and no federal tax-exempt status.
Ontario is home to about 50,000 Metis, whose main grievance has been that the province refuses to recognize what they deem their constitutionally guaranteed rights to hunt and fish.
As part of his ruling Monday, Vaillancourt said he set out to distill a “workable definition of who is a Metis. “I find that a Metis is a person of aboriginal ancestry; who self-identifies as a Metis; and who is accepted by the Metis community as a Metis.”