'He was waiting for us': Indigenous Sask. hunter says he was unfairly detained by conservation officer

Darcy Iron grew up living off of the land.

The Canoe Lake Cree First Nation band member, who now lives in Saskatoon, says his grandpa passed on his knowledge – how to collect traditional medicines and how to hunt and fish. He wants to pass that way of life on to his kids.

But now, he says his young children are "shaken" thinking back to a hunting trip with their dad, leading to another call from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) for a public inquiry into alleged systemic racism among the Ministry of Environment's conservation field services.

Iron said he took his 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter east of Saskatoon near Meacham on Dec. 30 because they were eager to learn how to hunt. He said he didn't plan on harvesting any animals because his freezer was already stocked with meat.

Iron said while they were out, a conservation officer approached him. He looked at his treaty card, checked his unloaded guns and left, recalls Iron.

"We were on our way back to Saskatoon. He was waiting for us at the pavement right at the junction there and basically stopped me again," he said.

"He said "Yeah, I found something here. I've got an issue and I'm going to have to place you under arrest.'"

Iron said the conservation officer found a 10-year firearms ban on his record. However, Iron said the ban was completed in 2016.

Then, Iron said the officer detained him in the back of his vehicle for over an hour while they waited on word from the RCMP, who enforces federal firearms legislation.

Meanwhile, he said, his children were left alone with no updates on what was going on. His daughter was crying, he said.

Iron said the conservation officer seized his guns, and that they were returned over a month later.

"Due to the delay in getting a response from the RCMP, the officer released Mr. Iron and provided an opportunity for voluntary compliance with the warrants at a later time. However, the firearms had to be seized," the Ministry of Environment said in a statement.

Iron said he made a report to the FSIN in order to have his concerns quickly addressed and speak with people who understand his treaty rights.

FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear says it's received reports from across Saskatchewan of conservation officers "harassing" treaty hunters.

"It's not getting any better … but the chiefs are aware. It's right across the whole region in our province," she said.

Bear emphasized the importance of hunting for Indigenous people. Because hunting is cheaper than buying meat at the grocery store, and it's often healthier, she said it reduces poverty and food insecurity.

Bear said the FSIN has approached the Ministry of Environment about the issue several times before, and that the ministry has referred to its cultural sensitivity training.

"You can train all you want, but it's the attitudes. I think it's time that this behaviour, that there's real consequences that happen," she said.

"We were here before; we had a way of life before; we had a way in terms of food sovereignty and that's always going to be there, but at what cost?"

While he was detained, Iron said the conservation officer made comments like "You guys are going about with your windows rolled down and shooting animals and making it bad for everybody."

"I said ‘What do you mean, you guys? Are you referring to First Nations hunters?'" said Iron.

He thought back to his grandpa, who taught him to make an offering of tobacco to Mother Earth before harvesting an animal and to not waste any of it.

"I would definitely like to see a positive come out of this negative," he added.

"We always talk about systemic racism and I strongly believe this was an example of that."

In its statement, the Ministry of Environment said RCMP later confirmed that Iron's records had not been updated and that he could legally be in possession of a non-restricted firearm.

The ministry said the conservation officer told Iron that he would get back his guns once he showed a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL), which Iron said he's in the process of applying for. RCMP returned the firearms after addressing the matter with him, the statement said.

"To date, the ministry has not received a written statement of complaint from Mr. Iron. However, the ministry intends to reach out to Mr. Iron, to let him know that option is available," it said.

Iron said the ministry has since contacted him, saying he can either file a formal complaint or a Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) representative can meet with his family and make amends.

Bear encouraged other hunters who have experienced similar situations to call the FSIN so that it can investigate.