The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says a Saskatchewan government plan to arm even more law enforcement officers in the province is "excessive" and will not help relations between officers and Indigenous people.
Heather Bear, a vice-chief for FSIN, also says the provincial government did not meaningfully consult FSIN about the wider plan, announced Tuesday, to curb rural crime.
"I think by putting guns into the equation, it's more power over our Indigenous people and we have enough of our people in jail," she said.
"More authorities with more guns means more Indigenous people in jail."
Under the plan, the province will launch a protection and response team made up of 120 RCMP and municipal police officers, 98 provincial conservation officers (COs) and 40 commercial vehicle enforcement officers (CVEOs) with the province's Ministry of Highways.
The latter group investigates traffic violations by truck and bus drivers.
A key part of the rural crime prevention plan calls for all members of the unit to be armed, and for all members to have the power to detain and arrest people.
According to the Ministry of Justice, conservation officers are already armed and have the authority to detain people until police arrive.
But commercial vehicle enforcement officers do not currently carry guns, meaning that the 40 CVEO officers in the unit will be armed for the first time, in addition to having "expanded powers."
"Our people are saying, 'That's two more we have to watch that have the potential and the power to hurt us, to put us in prison,'" said Bear of the COs and CVEOs who will be in the unit.
Inadequately consulted: FSIN
Bear called on the government to consider "more viable options" to keep people safe.
She said more emphasis needs to be placed on giving officers educational training about race relations and the treaty rights — including hunting rights — of Indigenous people.
At the same time, she said Indigenous people need be informed about whether the land they're hunting on is private or in fact covered by treaties.
Bear said FSIN was consulted about the rural crime response plan, but that it was "absolutely not meaningful."
"I don't think there was enough awareness about the meeting itself. I think there has to be proper consultation done with our people," she said.
The Ministry of Justice says the unit will be fully staffed by the end of March 2018.