'Our people don't take this lightly': Ted Tsetta case prompts debate over N.W.T.'s Wildlife Act

Indigenous people will continue to be charged for hunting caribou without a licence or tag where required, despite charges against a Dene man recently being stayed in court, after allegedly doing just that.

Charges were stayed against Ted Tsetta for hunting without tags in 2014

Ted Tsetta and Bill Erasmus outside the Yellowknife courthouse June 28, 2016. The charge against Ted Tsetta has been stayed and he has entered into a diversion agreement. (CBC)

Indigenous people will continue to be charged for hunting caribou without a licence or tag where required, despite charges against a Dene man accused of doing just that being stayed in court.

That's according to Roger Shepard, counsel for the attorney general on the case recently stayed against former Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief Ted Tsetta.  

Tsetta was charged in February 2014 for hunting caribou without tags. After returning to court 20 times, Tsetta signed a diversion agreement and proceedings were stayed.

A diversion agreement is an alternative to prosecution in court. The diversion agreement has not been made public, but Tsetta was not found guilty.  

In an email, Shepard said the court proceedings will not affect the implementation of the territory's Wildlife Act — but Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus thinks it should.

"We are discouraging the territorial government from apprehending any more people and laying any more charges," said Erasmus, who said he believes the Wildlife Act is largely not applicable to Indigenous people.

Shepard said that while the territorial government respects Indigenous rights outlined in the constitution, it will continue to apply and enforce the Wildlife Act, saying it is a matter of safety and conservation measures.

"Over the years, very, very seldom have our people been charged," said Erasmus, who added that most Indigenous people charged under the Act are likely to fight it, as it is matter of rights under section 35 of the constitution.

The territorial government should "really think out these issues before they charge people, because our people don't take this lightly," said Erasmus.