OTTAWA Aboriginal groups are upset they have been excluded fromPrime Minister Stephen Harper's new hunting and angling advisorypanel, arguing the Conservative government has snubbed the onlyCanadians with constitutionally protected hunting and fishingrights. Aboriginal representatives say British Columbia Conservative MPMark Strahl whose father Chuck was the former Aboriginal Affairsminister in the Harper government has assured them he will raisethe matter Tuesday in a private meeting with Environment MinisterPeter Kent and Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield. Harper announced last week his government is creating a hunting andangling advisory panel that will report to the environmentminister, fulfilling a Conservative party election campaignpromise. It will provide advice to the government on programs and policies"related to conservation and hunting and fishing, andpromoting and encouraging the effective stewardship of Canada'smarine and terrestrial wildlife," according to the government. |
The panel includes provincial and territorial representatives from19 hunting, angling and wildlife organizations but there are noaboriginal groups named to the committee. "It's ridiculous that indigenous peoples who very much dependon the land and its resources including fishing and hunting are not included in anyway whatsoever," said Grand ChiefEdward John with the First Nations Summit, an organizationcomprised of a majority of First Nations and tribal councils inB.C. "It just sends the wrong signal." Ernie Crey, a senior adviser to the Sto:lo Tribal Council of eightFirst Nations in B.C. and former employee at the Department ofFisheries and Oceans, said he views the government's decision as"poor planning and probably a snub." "What's missing is the voice of people who have aconstitutionally protected right of access to hunt and to fish andto harvest wildlife," he said. Crey, who's also a fisherman and an executive committee member ofthe Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance of around 30 First Nations, isurging the government to correct what he calls a "glaringomission" and include aboriginal organizations on thecommittee.
"If they're not prepared to do it, then we've got a seriousattitude problem," he added. Strahl, the MP for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, said in an email thathe will raise the concerns expressed by Crey and aboriginal groupswhen he meets Tuesday with the environment and fisheries ministers. But the environment minister doesn't appear willing to change thecomposition of the advisory panel. Kent said Monday in an emailed statement that aboriginal groupsregularly have their voices heard through several governmentdepartments and agencies such as Aboriginal Affairs and NorthernDevelopment, Environment Canada and the Canadian EnvironmentalAssessment Agency. "The hunting and fishing advisory panel was struck to create adialogue with this important segment of the population who havepreviously been under-consulted, and to address issues with huntersand anglers who are regulated by permits and licences," Kentsaid in the statement.
"First Nations have constitutional rights to hunt and fish,and are routinely engaged in consultations on a wide array ofsubjects including hunting, fishing, and conservation . . . on allpolicy matters that impact Aboriginal lands, customs and way oflife." Also Monday, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northernAlberta attacked the federal and provincial governments for"failing to adequately protect our waterways andwildlife," after finding two deformed, lesion-covered fish inLake Athabasca downstream of oilsands operations.
The government's new advisory panel was announced as theConservatives face growing backlash from opposition parties,environmental organizations and citizens groups about its sweepingbudget implementation legislation. Bill C-38 would scrap or rewrite several Canadian environmentalprotection laws and remove federal oversight and accountabilitymechanisms under the existing legislation. As part of it, the Fisheries Act would be stripped of requirementsto protect fish habitat, and instead would focus on supportingcommercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries. The bill would also weaken existing provisions of the Species AtRisk Act that restrict permits for projects that threaten criticalhabitat.
Four former federal fisheries ministers, including Tom Siddon (whoserved during the Mulroney era), wrote a joint letter last week toHarper condemning the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act. Moreover, the advisory panel includes organizations influenced andfunded by sources outside Canada, when the Conservatives haveaccused some Canadian environmental groups of using foreign moneyto attack domestic interests, including major pipeline projects. Twitter.com/jasonfekete.
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