Despite apology, Métis elder still stuck with ticket for illegal fishing

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Despite apology, Métis elder still stuck with ticket for illegal fishing

Even though Métis elder Ernie Desjarlais received a personal apology after wildlife officers interrupted a traditional gathering and seized dozens of smoked fish, he is still stuck with a ticket for illegal fishing and a court date.

Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan apologized Saturday evening after the officers were filmed taking the fish and issuing two tickets for fishing without a license.

Desjarlais said he's happy the province apologized but he still has some hard feelings about the ordeal.

"We had a good time at the camp until the fishing officers showed up. They ruined everything," Desjarlais said.

The incident happened Friday at the Conklin Métis Cultural Camp, about 150 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.

Wildlife investigators were called to the camp because of an illegal net in Christina Lake, a government media release said.

Officers did not find the net and instead seized the fish after members could not produce a fishing licence.

Alberta requires people who fish with a net to have a Métis Domestic Fishing Licence.

"We don't need a letter. One hundred years ago we didn't need a letter to go and harvest," Desjarlais said. "My mom and elders say they just went out and harvested."

Desjarlais is scheduled to appear in court to answer the fine of fishing without a licence on Jan. 14th.

'Our food was taken away from our plates'

Elder Margaret Quintal said it was an emotional weekend for the community.

Quintal said the camp was an opportunity to teach traditional values to young people. Organizers hoped to teach them how to smoke fish over a wood frame and then eat it for supper.

"I feel really saddened our elderly people had to see this happen and also our children," Quintal said.

Instead, they ate bannock and soup.

"The elders were looking so forward to supper that day where they would enjoy this smoked fish and this was taken away," Quintal said. "It's like our food was taken away from our plates."

Quintal said she thinks the situation could have been handled with more respect.

Community leaders gathered for a press conference in Conklin and said the incident was just one example of the mistreatment Métis have received over the years in northern Alberta.

Issues like overcrowded housing and a lack of clean water and sewage services were examples of the systemic neglect they and Indigenous people in the region face, they said.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook, Twitter or contact him via email.