A Fort McMurray Métis man is claiming victory after the Alberta government returned his bear hide, ending a two-year battle over Métis rights in northern Alberta.
Lenny Hansen shot the black bear near Fort McMurray in the spring of 2015. He skinned and cleaned the bear's fur and ate parts of the animal.
But after he dropped the skin off at a taxidermist to have it made into a rug, Hansen got a call from Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers. They had confiscated the hide, Hansen said, and threatened to charge him with hunting without the proper tags.
"I went that same day up to the Métis local and said, 'I am kind of lost here, I don't know what is going on. This is kind of scaring me to be honest,' " Hansen said.
Alberta has a Métis animal-harvesting policy that allows members of the Métis Nation of Alberta and members of a recognized Métis settlement to hunt, fish and trap in their communities with proper licences and registrations.
Fort McMurray, however, is not recognized as a harvesting community.
The Métis Nation of Alberta has argued it wasn't consulted when that policy was developed and it doesn't need permission from the province to hunt on its traditional lands.
Wildlife officers seized the bear skin on March 2, 2016, spokesperson Brendan Cox said, after obtaining a search warrant for a taxidermy business in Westlock.
"This bear skin was seized as there was concern the harvester in question had not applied to Environment and Parks to have their Métis harvester status recognized and had no other hunting licence," Cox wrote in an email.
Cox said all "contemplated charges" were dropped following a standard review process that considers evidence and the law, and after Hansen applied for a licence.
It's not clear from the statement how Hansen was approved as a Métis harvester when the province doesn't recognize Fort McMurray as a legitimate harvesting community.
Cox also said Alberta Environment and Parks is in the process of developing a new Métis harvesting policy.
'A born right'
Ron Sturgess Sr., who works for the McMurray Métis Local 1935, helped secure the return of Hansen's bear skin.
He said this and other incidents between the Métis and wildlife officers are examples of the overall lack of respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples.
"This is a born right that Lenny has had since he was brought into this world," Sturgess said. "His forefathers and family has been doing this harvesting for centuries."
Hansen hopes his victory emboldens other Indigenous harvesters who have felt like backing down after being threatened with charges when for practising hunting and fishing traditions.
"I know that there has been dozens, if not hundreds, of other people in the past still dealing with these kind of similar things right now." Hansen said. "I hope this can maybe help the process in the future."
This is not the first time in recent months the Métis nation and the province have clashed over harvesting rights.
In September, wildlife officers were filmed confiscating smoked fish from a cultural camp south of Fort McMurray.
Fish and Wildlife alleged the fish was caught without securing a free licence. The local Métis in Conklin condemned the province's move, saying it was culturally insensitive and infringed on their rights.
After the video of the incident went viral on social media, Alberta's Indigenous relations minister Richard Feehan apologized and personally delivered some frozen fish to replace the ones seized.