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NEWS RELEASE · 5th June 2012
Jason Fekete, Postmedia
Native groups angry at 'snub' from new federal hunting-fishing panel

Aboriginal groups are upset they have been excluded from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new hunting and angling advisory panel, arguing the Conservative government has snubbed the only Canadians with constitutionally protected hunting and fishing rights.

Aboriginal representatives say British Columbia Conservative MP Mark Strahl — whose father Chuck was the former Aboriginal Affairs minister in the Harper government — has assured them he will raise the matter Tuesday in a private meeting with Environment Minister Peter Kent and Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield.

Harper announced last week his government is creating a hunting and angling advisory panel that will report to the environment minister, fulfilling a Conservative party election campaign promise.

It will provide advice to the government on programs and policies "related to conservation and hunting and fishing, and promoting and encouraging the effective stewardship of Canada's marine and terrestrial wildlife," according to the government.

The panel includes provincial and territorial representatives from 19 hunting, angling and wildlife organizations — but there are no aboriginal groups named to the committee.

"It's ridiculous that indigenous peoples who very much depend on the land and its resources — including fishing and hunting — are not included in anyway whatsoever," said Grand Chief Edward John with the First Nations Summit, an organization comprised of a majority of First Nations and tribal councils in B.C.

"It just sends the wrong signal."

Ernie Crey, a senior adviser to the Sto:lo Tribal Council of eight First Nations in B.C. and former employee at the Department of Fisheries 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 a constitutionally protected right of access to hunt and to fish and to harvest wildlife," he said.

Crey, who's also a fisherman and an executive committee member of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance of around 30 First Nations, is urging the government to correct what he calls a "glaring omission" and include aboriginal organizations on the committee.

"If they're not prepared to do it, then we've got a serious attitude problem," he added.

Strahl, the MP for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, said in an email that he will raise the concerns expressed by Crey and aboriginal groups when he meets Tuesday with the environment and fisheries ministers.

But the environment minister doesn't appear willing to change the composition of the advisory panel.

Kent said Monday in an emailed statement that aboriginal groups regularly have their voices heard through several government departments and agencies such as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Environment Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

"The hunting and fishing advisory panel was struck to create a dialogue with this important segment of the population who have previously been under-consulted, and to address issues with hunters and anglers who are regulated by permits and licences," Kent said in the statement.

"First Nations have constitutional rights to hunt and fish, and are routinely engaged in consultations on a wide array of subjects including hunting, fishing, and conservation . . . on all policy matters that impact Aboriginal lands, customs and way of life."

Also Monday, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northern Alberta attacked the federal and provincial governments for "failing to adequately protect our waterways and wildlife," after finding two deformed, lesion-covered fish in Lake Athabasca downstream of oilsands operations.

The government's new advisory panel was announced as the Conservatives face growing backlash from opposition parties, environmental organizations and citizens groups about its sweeping budget implementation legislation.

Bill C-38 would scrap or rewrite several Canadian environmental protection laws and remove federal oversight and accountability mechanisms under the existing legislation.

As part of it, the Fisheries Act would be stripped of requirements to protect fish habitat, and instead would focus on supporting commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries.

The bill would also weaken existing provisions of the Species At Risk Act that restrict permits for projects that threaten critical habitat.

Four former federal fisheries ministers, including Tom Siddon (who served during the Mulroney era), wrote a joint letter last week to Harper condemning the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act.

Moreover, the advisory panel includes organizations influenced and funded by sources outside Canada, when the Conservatives have accused some Canadian environmental groups of using foreign money to attack domestic interests, including major pipeline projects.

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