A B.C. First Nations has partnered with the Conservation Officer Service to get a better grasp on wildlife conservation within its traditional territory.
T’exelc First Nation (Williams Lake Indian Band) is the fourth Indigenous community in the Cariboo Chilcotin to enter into such an agreement.
“Working with an organization like the provincial government in having this agreement and allowing the conservation officers into our traditional territory to help police over-harvesting is the key thing here,” Chief Willie Sellars said.
“Our traditional territory is located right next to a major urban centre for our region and the amount of First Nations that continue to harvest game in our territory is overwhelming for the WLIB to police on their own.”
Under the interim enforcement agreement both parties will promote and participate in ensuring respect and compliance with federal, provincial and Secwepemc laws to protect the environment, fish, wildlife and other natural resources.
The harvesting of cow moose by T’exelc members is presently not permitted within T’exelc territory. The agreement states T’exelc will include restrictions to prohibit harvesting of cow moose in its communal restrictions until such time that the moose population has recovered.
Prior to the agreement, Sellars said it was often a sticky situation in terms of what conservation officers were allowed to do in their traditional territory.
He said the constitutionally protected rights of a First Nations individual to be able to harvest in their traditional territory were often claimed in instances where individuals were over-harvesting.
“So now we’re giving authority to the conservation officers to help us police this up in our traditional territory. If they don’t have a letter of support form the Williams Lake Indian Band to hunt in our territory they can be taken to task.”
First Nations conservation officer members Ron Leblanc and Ryane McIntyre praised Sellars and the Williams Lake Indian Band on the agreement.
“We understand how the rights work for First Nations and what they’re allowed to harvest,” Leblanc said. “So to basically restrict First Nations on how they hunt wildlife is a big deal to make those commitments, and for the chief to step up and do that takes some courage.”
While it might not a popular decision, it is ultimately best for wildlife and the environment, he added.
Whether a resolution is reached judicially or through restorative justice, McIntyre said it is the leading way to allow animal species such as moose to replenish.
The interim agreement is valid for two years, after which it can be extended.
“There are some questions that we have in regards to our treaty, so that’s why we see this as an interim agreement,” Sellars said.
Other First Nations in the Cariboo Chilcotin with an agreement or memorandum of understanding with the B.C. Conservation Office include Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah), ?Esdilagh (Alexandria), and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek/Dog Creek).