Canada’s gun advisory committee now has Indigenous representation from B.C.’s rural north.
Christine Creyke, who is the lands director for the Tahltan Central Government (TCG) and manages environment, wildlife and resources throughout the territory, was appointed to the committee along with former B.C. Supreme Court judge and attorney general Wally Oppal as the committee’s new chair.
Creyke’s appointment marks the first time since 2017 that the CFAC has had Indigenous representation.
“Wallace Oppal and Christine Creyke add invaluable experience and expertise to this important work, and will help inform new measures to make our country less vulnerable to the scourge of gun violence, while being fair to responsible, law-abiding firearms owners and businesses,” says Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale in a press release.
The CFAC provides advice to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on Canada’s firearms policies, laws and regulations. The 10 member group ranges from civilian firearms users, farmers, law enforcement officials, public health advocates and women’s organizations.
After getting her bachelor’s degree in geography at UNBC in 2006, Creyke pursued masters-level studies through the university’s Natural Resources and Environmental Studies program. She has experience in policy development for oil and gas, wildlife and hunting regulations, and is heavily involved with the Tahltan community.
Creyke was in Ottawa for the committee’s first meeting on Feb. 20, the fifth meeting since the CFAC was renewed in 2017.
She says she can help the committee’s direction on firearms issues to consider First Nations, northern and rural perspectives.
“I grew up in the North, I live my life in the North,” Creyke says. “Under my department, we deal with a lot of the hunting regulations and resident hunters in the territory. My family has a guide and outfitting business, and I grew up in that kind of community.”
During her first meeting, she says the committee discussed changes in firearm storage that may come as a result of Bill C-71. The bill would introduce new national gun legislation to enhance background checks, enforce mandatory recordkeeping requirements for retailers, and tighten rules for travelling with firearms.
Risks associated with gun storage and theft in residential areas were topics Creyke could speak to from experience, on how firearms can be used as protection for people living in rural communities with close proximity to wildlife.
“A lot of people’s perspectives were from urban settings, and what that means for storing firearms and having those safety precautions in place, because having firearms in residential areas is a big concern,” she says.
“But I was talking about safety from predators, like grizzly bears.”
Grizzly bears have been active in and around Tahltan communities later into what is normally their hibernation season.
TCG Wildlife Department issued a community notice last December that advised residents to be extra vigilant for “the potential of grizzly bears being out of hibernation throughout the winter,” and they were tracking three active bears in the territory.
Changing food sources, overpopulation of the backcountry are some of the possible reasons why, but nevertheless — these bears are hungry, and more than likely don’t have the fat stores to allow them to successfully hibernate. The bears are then likely going to be overly aggressive when looking for food, the notice read.
In this situation, firearms play a large role in ensuring people’s safety, Creyke says.
Last November, a teacher and her 10-month-old daughter were killed in a grizzly bear attack while at their cabin in the Yukon.
“Having a firearm as part of my everyday life because of predators, and that’s where my safety perspective is coming from,” she says.
Issues surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women, domestic violence and suicide rates are also areas that can disproportionately affect First Nations communities.
A 2018 Canada-wide study on national health inequalities found suicide rates were 6.5 times higher in places with a concentration of Inuit people and 3.7 times higher for First Nations people. Indigenous women in Canada are also 2.7 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence, according to Statistics Canada.
Creyke says these issues need to be considered when talking about the nation’s gun laws, areas she can provide significant perspective and insight on for fairer representation moving forward.
“From my perspective, there wasn’t a Northern voice on [CFAC], or a northern Aboriginal one,” she says. “If there are these data gaps, then what else should they be looking at, or who else should they be speaking to?”
Both Creyke and Oppal will hold their committee positions for two-year terms.
*CORRECTION* An earlier version of this story misidentified the child killed by a grizzly bear last fall as 10 years old. She was 10 months old. We apologize for this mistake.