'Against our treaty rights': Indigenous mom, night hunter slams Pallister's plan to ban spotlighting

An Indigenous hunter who relies on night hunting to feed her family says Premier Brian Pallister’s promised ban on the practice known as “spotlighting” would fly in the face of her treaty rights.

Premier Brian Pallister announced ban at PC fundraiser, expected to table bill in legislature Monday

Premier Brian Pallister’s unprompted announcement that the province will ban night hunting would go against treaty rights, says one Indigenous hunter. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

An Indigenous hunter who relies on night hunting to feed her family says Premier Brian Pallister's promised ban on the practice known as "spotlighting" would fly in the face of her treaty rights.

Pallister promised the ban Thursday at the Progressive Conservative party's spring fundraising gala and legislation for the ban is expected to be introduced this week.

The unprompted announcement concerns Elissa Gabriel, who hunts at night with her children.

"If he's really against night hunting then he's actually against our treaty rights and Indigenous people here in Manitoba," Gabriel told CBC News.

"If he's trying to ban night hunting then he's basically trying to ban my treaty rights."

Elissa Gabriel says Premier Brian Pallister's proposed ban on night hunting goes against Indigenous treaty rights. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Spotlight hunting involves the use of bright lights to help hunters see moose, deer and other animals.

Indigenous people have a right — protected by the Constitution Act of 1982 — to hunt animals for food at night, provided it is done safely and meets certain conditions, including that the hunting is done on reserves, unoccupied Crown land or private land with permission.

Pallister told the some 800 Progressive Conservatives gathered at Thursday night's fundraiser his government had previously announced "we're going to end the inhumane practice of using spotlights at night to kill animals."

While his government had not actually made any such announcement, there is a bill scheduled to be introduced Monday in the legislature called The Wildlife Amendment Act — Safe Hunting and Shared Management.

Pallister's communications director, Chisholm Pothier, would only say the Tory plan will enact a 2016 campaign promise to crack down on night hunting.

'Weren't informed properly'

The move has come under fire from the Southern Chiefs' Organization, which says such legislation would come without proper consultation with Indigenous people about the issue — a constitutional obligation.

"I think if you go into the First Nations, I think every single one of them is going to say 'we disagree,' and they weren't informed properly of what the time frame was going to be," Daniels told CBC News last week.

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires disagrees with the SCO and Grand Chief Daniels and said there have been extensive consultations with multiple stakeholders.

"I have had Grand Chief Jerry Daniels in my office on numerous occasions and I respectfully disagree with him when he states that we have not conducted broad consultations," Squires said in an interview Friday.

"We understand our constitutional responsibility and we take that responsibility very seriously."

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires says there have been extensive consultations with multiple stakeholders. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Squires also disputes Daniels's assertion the government has not reached out to leaders in individual First Nations.

"We took a very, very extensive consultative phase with Grand Chief Jerry Daniels and many of the bands that he represents," she said.

Night hunting is a controversial practice in rural communities. At least two people have been killed in recent years by stray bullets fired at night and there have been reports of damage to farm equipment and injuries to livestock shot by night hunters.

Manitoba Métis Federation members voted last year to ban spotlighting and The Manitoba Wildlife Federation has been working toward a ban on night hunting for at least two years.

It's about safety

But Gabriel says night hunting is especially important for Indigenous hunters living in urban centres, like Winnipeg, who can't necessarily go hunting whenever they want once the season opens up. 

She says Crown lands get very busy during open season and many Indigenous hunters choose to hunt at night when there's less people out.

It's about safety, she says.

"When it's open season we have so many non-Aboriginal people hunting during the day and we give them that space in the daytime," she said. "When it gets so crowded on these crown lands close to Winnipeg then it gets more dangerous.

"It's more dangerous than night hunting when you have crowded crown lands full of hunters."

Night hunting or 'spotlighting' is a concern around numerous communities. (Submitted by the Manitoba Wildlife Federation)

To stay safe Gabriel says night hunters like her make sure they they're not hunting near cattle or people's homes.

"We usually scout during the day so we can make sure that safety is first," she said.

"We know the land, we know where houses are located."

Pallister stirred up anger last year when he said the issue was becoming a race war — something he wanted to avoid.

"Young, Indigenous guys going out and shooting a bunch of moose because they can, because they say it's their right, doesn't make any sense ... to me," Pallister told a few dozen party members in January 2017 in Virden, Man.

Gabriel says she would invite the premier to meet her and her family before deciding to ban the practice.

"I would ask him what he thinks about night hunting, I would ask him to see his perspective instead of watching and seeing it or reading it on social media," she said.

"I would say come to my house and come see my kids because you're basically calling my kids criminals — because we hunt with our kids too.

"I'm calling him out because he's trying to mess with my treaty rights."

The Manitoba Wildlife Federation is calling on the province to ban spotlighting during nighttime hunting, citing the dangers in populated areas of rural Manitoba. 1:53

With files from the Canadian Press and Sean Kavanagh