quoddy-tides-may-2021-v2

Peskotomuhkati Chief Hugh Akagi welcomes a Supreme Court of Canada decision that a Sinixt man from Washington State can legally hunt in British Columbia. The court ruled by a 7-2 margin on April 23 upholding the acquittal of Richard Lee Desautel on a charge under British Columbia’s Wildlife Act for killing a cow elk near Castlegar on October 14, 2010. The court ruled that even though Desautel is an American citizen living on the Colville Indian Reserve in Washington, he had an aboriginal right to hunt in his ancestral territory in Canada as a descendant of the Arrow Lakes Band in British Columbia, which the Canadian government declared extinct in 1956. Both the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik, which is negotiating for legal recognition in Canada, and the government of New Brunswick intervened in the hearing in Ottawa on October 8. The decision came down to section 35(1) of the Constitution Act of 1982: “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” Rachelle Standing, arguing on behalf of the attorney general of New Brunswick, supported British Columbia’s position that “aboriginal peoples of Canada” means aboriginal people living in Canada today. Paul Williams of Ontario, representing the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik, supported Desautel’s contention that these words cover people with ancestral lands in Canada, even though they live on the other side of an international border slicing through their homeland. The court sided with Desautel, upholding acquittals by three lower courts that have heard the case. The government of New Brunswick is saying little about the decision. “We are evaluating the Supreme Court of Canada decision and have no comment at this time,” states an e-mail from Communications Officer David Kelly with the provincial Aboriginal Affairs Department. Akagi, a St. Andrews resident and sakom of the Peskotomuhkati at Skutik, was not so reticent. “My nation straddles what is now an international border, too –Maine and New Brunswick. In many places I can throw a softball across the Skutik – St. Croix – River to Maine, that’s how close I am to my relatives and fellow nation citizens. But we’ve not been able to visit during the pandemic that has closed the border,” he says in an article posted on the Peskotomuhkati Nation website. “We’ve always maintained that we are one united Peskotomuhkati Nation. We expect our negotiation partners in New Brunswick and Canada to respect our rights and our abilities to manage the implications of this new ruling. Borders have been used to divide us. Land has been stolen. Fish stocks have been depleted. Some in the nation don’t have the appropriate identification to cross – passports or Indian ID cards, for example,” he wrote. Akagi was not available for an interview, but Williams, speaking from Ontario, says the Desautel decision strengthens the Peskotomuhkati bargaining position with the New Brunswick and Canadian governments. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty settling the Maine–New Brunswick border cut through Peskotomuhkati territory in 1842, the same as the Oregon boundary did to Sinixt territory in 1846, he says. Both of these nations largely moved to the Ameri-can side of the line, not completely voluntarily, and the federal government eventually declared both extinct. The Supreme Court of Canada seems to feel otherwise, contending, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes descendants of people living here at the time Europeans arrived. Williams says New Brunswickers should not worry about Peskotomuhkati from Maine crossing the border to hunt. The Peskotomuhkati already have agreements with the provincial government for hunting moose and deer, he says. The province provides a certain number of tags for deer and moose, which the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik distributes for a community hunt – with the meat distributed to community members. The Peskotomuhkati are negotiating with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans over lobster fishing, too. Williams agrees that some of these hunters, or crew on lobster boats, might have Maine addresses – although no Peskotomuhkati came from Maine last year because of COVID-19. “Our issue is how do we work with Canada and New Brunswick to deal with a single nation with shared rights? And that’s what the law in Canada is now; and now we have to make sure the government can catch up to it.” The Peskotomuhkati and Sinixt will have to negotiate with Canada over rights to cross the border – in cases for people with criminal records, as one example, Williams says. “If somebody has a constitutional right to hunt in Canada, we prob-ably want a conversation about what kind of offenses are justifiable in terms of keeping people out because they are dangerous or undesirable, and what kind of offenses shouldn’t be an obstacle to exercising constitutional rights,” he says.