FSIN calls for trespassing charges against farmer evicted from Ochapowace land

Leaders of a reserve in the Esterhazy area say a reported trespassing incident where a gun was present, combined with alleged inaction by police, has heightened tension and fear in their community.

'It was a land dispute and tensions were high,' says band councillor

Councillor Tim Bear and Chief Margaret Bear hold their federally approved band bylaw for the "removal of trespassers" on Ochapowace land. (Chelsea Laskowski/CBC News)

Leaders of a reserve in the Esterhazy area say a reported trespassing incident where a gun was present, combined with alleged inaction by police, has heightened tension and fear in their community.

A husband and wife that had been leasing Ochapowace First Nation reserve land to farm were served an eviction notice earlier this month due to arrears that were mounting, Chief Margaret Bear said.

Band councillor Tim Bear, who runs the lands portfolio, said that the couple's son returned after the eviction and told band employees his family intended to get crop off the field.

The employees saw a gun in the man's truck during that conversation and decided to retreat and call Esterhazy RCMP, Tim Bear said.

"The lands manager… mentioned [to RCMP] it was a land dispute and that tensions were high," Tim Bear said at a news conference held Thursday at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) office in Saskatoon Thursday.

Officers did not respond in person, Chief Bear said. The RCMP has since said it appears not all of its investigative steps were followed.

The individuals who were evicted continue to trespass today, said Councillor Tim Bear. (Chelsea Laskowski/CBC News)

Chief Margaret Bear said the incident brought the killing of Colten Boushie to mind for people on the reserve, even though the father of the man who spoke to employees later told them the weapon is used for killing gophers.

"Was it because of the gophers or was it something different? While we don't want to speculate, those are the things that crop up fear within our people. And it's serious," she said.

Proposed provincial trespassing laws, which the FSIN has said are disrespectful of treaty rights, compound things further, she said.

"Do they feel that they have the right to come onto our lands armed with a gun? Does that give them that right, do they think that?" she said. "There needs to be an invitation to come on our lands, especially after providing eviction notice and a trespass notice."

She called on the RCMP to help her First Nation enforce the band's trespassing bylaw.

FSIN supports Ochapowace

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron asserted that if it had been a First Nations person going onto a non-First Nation's person's land, the treatment would have been different. (Olivier Rouquairol Jodouin/Radio-Canada)

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said that due to the issues with how RCMP handled the Ochapowace incident, he will not be signing a memorandum of understanding that was set to be signed with the Mounties later this year.

He also said he wants the individuals who were evicted to be charged criminally for trespassing.

Community pastures have been on Ochapowace for some time, and allow the band to support its membership, said FSIN Vice Chief Morley Watson, who is from Ochapowace.

He said it's fortunate that no one was hurt in this recent incident.

"We really ask the RCMP to do their jobs. And if we're going to gain the respect of the non-First Nations people then it has to be on a level playing field, it can't continue this way. And we've seen justice, the last few years, how unbalanced it has been," he said.

with files from the Canadian Press