On May 30, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the creation of an advisory panel on hunting and angling, that would inform and give advice to Environment Canada on how to help conservation efforts in the country. Curiously, Aboriginal groups were excluded from that panel.

“They absolutely should have included Aboriginal groups to this committee,” said Brian Craik, director of federal relations for the Grand Council of the Crees. “You look at the organizations that make up the panel and it looks like an old boys’ club.”

The panel is made up of various fishing and wildlife conservation groups from across Canada, as well advocates for the companies in the hunting and fishing industry. It includes organizations such as the Fur Institute of Canada, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, and the Atlantic and Pacific Salmon Federations.

According to the press release from the Prime Minister’s Office, the panel will help “ensure decisions on issues such as endangered species, wetland protection and nature conservation benefit from a balanced perspective”.

Although the panel doesn’t include any Aboriginal representation, Environment Minister Peter Kent argues that they are not being kept out of the process all together.

“The hunting and fishing advisory panel was struck to create a dialogue with this important segment of the population who have previously been under-consulted, and to address issues with hunters and anglers who are regulated by permits and licenses,” he said. “First Nations have constitutional rights to hunt and fish, and are routinely engaged in consultations on a wide array of subjects including hunting, fishing, and conservation through AANDC (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada) as well as Environment Canada, CEAA (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) and Parks Canada on all policy matters that impact Aboriginal lands, customs and way of life.”

Not everyone, however, is convinced that this panel will effectively consult and deal with Aboriginal groups when attempting to affect conservation practices in this country.

“I’d say that’s utter nonsense,” said Jean Crowder, NDP Member of Parliament and opposition critic on Aboriginal affairs. “The problem is that [the government] seems to think that this panel will come to decisions, and then go to Aboriginal groups with [what they’ve come up with]. It’s just short sighted.”

She added, “My experience [with these types of panels] is that they present Aboriginal groups with the results and say take it or leave it. They create an us-versus-them situation. It shows a lax commitment and it sends a message that their rights are an afterthought.”

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come also takes issue with the exclusion of Aboriginal groups from a panel that would only benefit from their presence.

“The Crees already advise the government with the Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Coordinating Committee, but it would have been a step in the right direction to have the coordinating committee sit in on the panel,” he said. “You would think by now that the Prime Minister would be well informed about the experience and expertise of the Cree people [in these areas].”

Craik also commented that this panel only further excludes other First Nations from the process of environmental conservation.

“The Cree at least have the coordinating committee that deals directly with the federal government and specifically the Ministry of the Environment,” he said. “Most First Nations in Canada don’t have that.”

Coon Come went on to argue that this panel only enforces a practice that Aboriginal peoples have become all too accustomed to seeing.

“First Nations have always felt that there is a practice of exclusion,” he said. “This was an opportunity to have inclusion.”

Coon Come would not go as far as saying that this exclusion was done purposefully, but would also not clear the government of any intentional exclusionary practices.

“We’re always suspicious,” he said. “It’s a shame that the Prime Minister would have excluded First Nations people and I would hope that he revisits the issue.”