A northwestern Saskatchewan First Nation is not giving up its fight to assert what it says are traditional hunting rights on a piece of land currently occupied by the Canadian military.
The Buffalo River Dene Nation has been locked in a battle with the Department of National Defence since 1994 when two of its band members were charged for trespassing and unlawful hunting on the Primrose Air Weapons Range.
The Buffalo River band was in federal court in Vancouver last month requesting a judge officially recognize its traditional rights in the area.
Chief Lance Byhette says band members continue to access the area unhindered but it is important that the justice system clarify the historic wrong the federal government committed when it expropriated the territory in the 1950’s.
“That’s where all the medicine and our food and livelihood has been utilized prior to the air weapons range,” he says. “Myself, I was raised by my 95-year-old grandfather that just passed on this summer, who utilized that area to provide for our family and community members.”
Byhette says they have tried to resolve the issue with the Canadian military a number of times over the years but been forced to go to the judicial system as a last resort.
“I wrote a letter to the wing commander, I’ve mentioned it to the minister, I’ve sat down with the minister regarding this issue but it’s already in court, let the court process take its toll and see where it goes from there is what their response is at the end of the day.”
James Sylvestre and Harry Catarat were initially acquitted of charges related to hunting on the air weapons range but this ruling was later overturned and the Supreme Court later denied an appeal.
Along with the Buffalo River band, the Birch Narrows First Nation is also pursuing the issue in federal court.
The judge is expected to deliver a decision on the case in the coming weeks.