Sask. Cree elder wants apology from provincial government after home raided by conservation officers in 2021

An elder from a First Nation in western Saskatchewan wants a public apology from the provincial government, after conservation officers raided his home in 2021 and confiscated moose meat he says was given to him by community members for a ceremonial gathering and feast.

Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation Elder Doug Morningchild, 70, spoke along with his wife, Flora Morningchild —  a medicine woman — and their friend Gale Takakenew at a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations news conference on Friday, calling on the provincial government to address systemic racism within the Ministry of Environment. 

Doug Morningchild said he started off the morning on Oct. 7, 2021, as he usually does: checking his rabbit snares.

“We are traditional people,” he said. “We try to live off the land as much as we can.”

Later that day, he was relaxing with his wife at their home on the First Nation, located northeast of Lloydminster, when she noticed conservation vehicles pull into their driveway, he said. Morningchild said he estimated there were up to 20 officers at his home. 

“They embarrassed us,” he said. “Vehicles stopped on the highway to check what was going on at my place like I was a big drug dealer or a mass murderer, with all the vehicles and the lights.”

A man in a yellow shirt with long grey hair stands outside on a doorstep, talking to a man in a conservation officer's uniform.
Morningchild says he asked conservation officers whether they had a warrant when they came to his home on Oct. 7, 2021. The officers responded they had one but left at the office, he says. (Submitted by Gale Takaknenew)

Morningchild said he asked the officers whether they had a search warrant.

“[The officers said] ‘it’s in the office, we’ll go get it and we will bring it tomorrow,'” he said. 

“Then they all piled in.”

The officers went on to search his home, including personal belongings in their bedroom, for moose meat, said Morningchild.

“I didn’t even know what they were looking for, and he said I killed three moose,” he said. “How can I kill three moose? I didn’t even have a firearm inside the house.”

The conservation officers confiscated wild meat from a large freezer and three smaller freezers, which officers said would be DNA tested.

Morningchild says the meat had been given to him to feed his family and community members at upcoming ceremonial gatherings.

Takakenew said she went to the Morningchilds’ home the day of the raid for teachings, and found the conservation officers there. She saw armed officers were still at the residence later that night, she said Friday.

“I went and talked to them and asked them, ‘Can you guys leave? Our elders are here and they want to sleep,'” Takakenew said. 

She was told they wouldn’t leave until the chief asked them, she said, and armed conservation officers returned the following morning.

“I was appalled at the way they treated my teachers.”

Two women crying and a man sitting while speaking at a press conference
Gale Takakenew, left, and Flora Morningchild, centre, cried at the news conference on Friday. Takakenew later said it was the first time she cried about what happened in October 2021. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)

According to a statement from the Ministry of Environment, the Conservation Officer Service had received a complaint of recent unlawful hunting activity of moose on private land. Further information indicated that two moose had been harvested from the location, the ministry said.

The evidence gathered at that location, and from the complainant, led officers to a Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation home “which was later searched under judicial authorization,” the statement read. 

“This search produced evidence that was seized and later confirmed to be related to the unlawful harvest of the animals.”

The ministry didn’t identify Morningchild, but said one person was charged with a count of unlawful possession of wildlife under The Saskatchewan Wildlife Act.

That charge was dismissed by a judge in January due to a technicality, the ministry said.

A man and a woman holding a dog stand in a yard, where wooden poles are arranged in a teepee.
Doug and Flora Morningchild standing in their backyard the day of the raid. (Submitted by Gale Takakenew)

Morningchild said the fine was for $2,800.

“That’s thing with this justice system today — it wasn’t made for us Natives,” he said.

Calls for ministry reforms

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says it has received numerous complaints from First Nations people about their treatment by Ministry of Environment staff.

In June 2020, the federation, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, sent a formal letter to the provincial government requesting an inquiry.

On Friday, the federation renewed its call for an inquiry and asked anyone with similar experiences to come forward.

“Our elders are being criminalized for practising our ways of life,” FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear said.

“Both the federal and provincial governments must play a role in preventing the ongoing systemic racism and injustices experienced by our First Nations every day.”

Bear added more education is needed within the Ministry of Environment concerning First Nations’ inherent and treaty rights to hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering and land access.

“This mistreatment was horrifying to Doug and his wife and these actions cannot go unaddressed,” Bear said.

“It’s happening far too often.”

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