As long as this land shall last...
Elders speak out against park hunting laws

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 12/99) - "In the time to come I hope we may be able to make the park a sanctuary and that no person will be permitted to hunt or trap therein." -- Finnie, of the territorial government, April 30, 1926.

When Kenny Hudson shot a moose in Wood Buffalo National Park in February, he opened up the history books that many locals say Parks Canada has been trying to keep closed.

The park was opened in 1922, and despite pleas from Bishop Breynat and others, the Metis people were excluded from hunting within the sanctuary.

The author of As Long as This Land Shall Last, Father Rene Fumoleau, has done extensive research on this period in his compilation of the book. Fumoleau agrees with Hudson that hunting restrictions placed on Metis in the park were unjust from the beginning.

"I'm not in favour of a lawless country where people just do what they like, but there are some rights which are more important than some laws," Fumoleau said.

"I know Kenny Hudson, and he's right," he added.

Fumoleau said the hunting laws were not legislated for the protection of wildlife, but to show the world Canada held the North within its legal boundaries.

"In the '20s, all these game laws that were made about the beaver, the ptarmigan, the buffalo, it was not so much about the animals and the wildlife, it was mostly to prove that Canada administers this land," Fumoleau said. "There was nothing else to bring people to court about. Just the aboriginal people and the game."

"It was the only way to prove Canada had sovereignty over this land."

Fumoleau said the indigenous people were lied to then and they are lied to still.

"They still believe these promises that anybody makes to them," he said.

"Promises, promises...not one of these promises has been realized, but they still trust them," Fumoleau said, shaking his head. "They are just amazing people. It is their nature."

Fumoleau said the creation of the park was in direct violation to the treaty agreement.

"It was very clear during the signing of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11 that nothing would change," he said." "You will be free to hunt and trap and fish as you have and nothing will change..." he trailed off. "But there have been hundreds of treaties made like this around the world and they never meant anything either."

Gabe Sepp has been working his trapline in the park all his life. His father and grandfather worked the same land.

"I've been hunting and trapping in the park since 1949," Sepp said. "It's everybody's land, I can't understand it."

"Some people have the freedom and some don't," he added. "Our fathers and grandfathers hunted there, long before the park was established."

Sepp said there was a list of family names who worked the land before the park was established.

He accuses Parks Canada of withholding the information to keep people from hunting within the sanctuary.

"They haven't lost the names, they still have them -- they just don't want to release them," he said.

Seventy-three-year-old Frank Laviolette has spent a lot of time researching and living in and around Wood Buffalo National Park as well.

"Big Frank," as he's known to the people, is quite an authority on the park. He was born at Salt River and has lived his whole life in the area.

Laviolette agrees with Sepp about the records of people who lived and hunted in the park, saying the list is incomplete. He's conducted most of his research through the Roman Catholic Mission.

"I think the park threw a lot of goddamned names away -- even of the treaty people," Laviolette said.

He said the Hudson family has been cheated of their right to hunt in the park.

"Kenny Hudson had relatives in the park long before the park was established and after the park was established the man died," Laviolette said. "So he should have a licence."

The Metis have as much right to hunt in the park as anyone, Laviolette said.

"I don't care if they're Metis or not -- fair is fair," he added.

"I call the park, 'Beaulieau Country,' and Beaulieaus were Metis," Big Frank added.

Rene Mercredi turns 84 this August. He's lived in Fort Smith most of his life as a trapper and later as a wildlife officer for the GNWT.

"It should have been changed a long time ago," Mercredi said. "A lot of Metis were kicked out of there when they changed that law," he said.

Mercredi said when the park was formed people had to seek new hunting grounds.

"We had to hunt across the river, but there was better hunting in the park," he said. "There were different animals in there too, like marten and mink."

"I bought Frank Conibear's trapline and worked it for most of my life, but after I got a job as a wildlife officer, I didn't bother with it too much," he recalled. "So I never had to worry too much about hunting in the park because I always hunted to the east."

Mercredi said he hopes the rights will be restored for the Metis people and supports Hudson's hunt through the wilds of the courthouse.

"Well, I wish him luck," he said.