The growing frustrations between rural landowners and night hunters in the southwest corner of the province is turning into a "race war," according to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
The premier made the comments during a speech he gave on Monday, to about 60 Progressive Conservative party members in Virden. Virden-based CJ-97 radio reporter Heather Reimer said three local media members were present during the speech.
CJ Radio general manager Bill Gade told The Brandon Sun that the luncheon was officially a party event, though for some reason "media were not asked to leave."
Following an unrelated question from the floor, the premier segued into night hunting, and Reimer recorded this clip:
"I think environmental and fiscal issues, I think (of them) the same way. We should all think sustainably," Pallister said. "What is fair about going out and shooting at a pair of eyes in the night with a high-powered rifle? What’s sustainable about that?
"It’s just not right. It should stop. So what are we doing? Well, we’re organizing. We’re organizing to bring indigenous people together to say the same thing I just said. Because it’s becoming a race war. And I don’t want that. That’s not in anybody’s best interest. Young indigenous guys going out and shooting a bunch of moose because they can? Because they say it’s their right? That doesn’t make any sense ... to me."
Pallister is also heard calling night hunting a "dumb practice," and an "unfair practice," and suggested that indigenous elders have been intimidated into staying quiet about illegal night hunting practices.
"They need to come forward and they need to be involved in this discussions," he said. "This is not how most indigenous people think. They think seven generations into the future."
The full audio clip can be heard at brandonsun.com.
Though night hunting is permitted for indigenous hunters on Crown lands or private lands where they have received permission, the practice of spotlighting — pointing artificial light into the eyes of big game at night to sop them in their tracks —is illegal in Manitoba.
Yet in the past year rural landowners have alleged that a growing number of illegal hunters are abandoning the carcasses of big game and even livestock in various locations in the southwest corner of the province. That has prompted a rural backlash against night hunters, and fuelled concerns of vigilante retaliation.
Earlier this month, the province announced that Manitoba conservation officers had laid 49 night hunting and dangerous hunting charges in 2016 that will be prosecuted in the legal system, and they seized 14 vehicles and 44 long-barrel rifles. These totals are a large increase from 2015, when 25 night hunting and zero night hunting charges were pursued through the courts. Only five vehicles were confiscated that year.
Due to a prior commitment, RM of Pipestone Reeve Archie McPherson was unable to attend Pallister’s Monday luncheon, but said he agreed in principle with the premier’s comments regarding the practice of hunting at night.
"All night hunting is unnecessary," McPherson said. "I’m dead against it. And the majority of people are. There’s no need for it. Nobody in the city would want somebody wandering around their home with a rifle in the middle in the night."
McPherson is one of several municipal reeves and councillors representing six municipalities who have urged the province to end the practice of night hunting once and for all. It’s his hope, he says, that everybody needs to come together —the province, First Nation and aboriginal communities and rural land owners — to find a common solution.
But in voicing his opposition to the practice, McPherson says he too has been accused of being racist against indigenous people.
"I didn’t want race to be involved in it whatsoever. It’s about safety and the management of our wildlife. Everybody puts their own spin on it. And then when people feel threatened they mention race."
Scott Phillips, a hunter who serves as a councillor in the RM of Sifton, cautioned that rural landowners are protesting over safety concerns —not matters of race. And while he supported what the premier had to say, he suggest that called it a growing race war was unhelpful.
"I don’t think he should have brought that out," Phillips said. "That will just trigger the Dave Chartrands of the world — just fuel their fire."
When reached late yesterday afternoon, Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand expressed concern that the premier was "buying into" an ideology that he believes has been expressed by municipal council members in the region, and the Manitoba Wildlife Federation — that race is at the heart of the problem.
"I think there’s more than just a race war. It’s not a race war," Chartrand said. "There’s issues here. There’s people’s issues, there’s safety issues, there’s a variety of different things that are here. It’s not about white versus indigenous. It’s clearly a balance of issues that need to be looked at. And in order to do it right, we’ve got to stay away from that language ourselves."
"The premier is the leader of Manitoba, and stands for all Manitobans, including me, as a Manitoban. But I’m also the leader of my people, and I have to be told sometimes, be careful with your own words. You might be sending the wrong message."
Chartrand argued that the MMF has made overtures to the provincial government to talk about the practice of night hunting, in order to get proper consultations started across the province. Yet, to date, he says he has not had a response.
While open to discussions, however, Chartrand remained defiant when it came to any hint of the Tories taking away his people’s right to hunt.
"I’ll never allow this premier or any premier to trump my people’s rights. Never."
The Brandon Sun and Winnipeg Free Press reporter Nick Martin reached out to Mr. Pallister’s office in an attempt to clarify the premier’s comments. We were told that he was unavailable to comment directly as he was on his way to Costa Rica.
The province’s director of communications, Olivia Baldwin-Valainis, replied to questions regarding Pallister’s "race war" comment by stating that there have been many reports of the "escalating tension between rural land owners and night hunters." Baldwin-Valainis wrote that during a recent meeting between members of the provincial cabinet and municipal representatives facilitated through the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, it was evident that frustration is growing.
"It is this dialogue and the escalating tensions that the Premier was referring to," she wrote. "This issue is highly sensitive and tensions are quite high, particularly in the area where these comments were made.
"The premier would rephrase given the opportunity."
Rural representatives from southwest Manitoba are slated to meet with Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox on Tuesday in Winnipeg.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from Nick Martin
» Twitter: @MattGoerzen