New fisheries report gives hope to Indigenous communities, but angers industry – National
A Mi’kmaq lawyer from the community at the center of a backlash over her self-managed lobster fishery says she’s « very optimistic » about a new Senate report that calls for the full implementation of human rights. native fishing.
« To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised, » said Rosalie Francis, a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia.
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But elsewhere in the province, the surprise was much less pleasant. It is feared that the report titled « Peace on the Water » could instead stir up anger in communities where lobster is a means of subsistence.
Sipekne’katik launched a self-regulated fishery in 2020 in the waters of St. Mary’s Bay. It is part of Lobster Fishing Area 34 – or LFA 34 – a stretch of coast that is home to one of the country’s most lucrative fisheries, where around a fifth of all Canadian lobster is transported each year.
But this prosperity has not always included indigenous peoples.
When Sipekne’katik set traps with its own tags months before the start of the 2020 fishing season, there was sometimes a backlash from the local community. A lobster pound was deliberately set on fire and protesters formed an angry mob.
In response, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has increased enforcement on the water and on the docks.
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Francis said it let people « go out on the water and exercise their right as criminals ».
The issue boils down to the federal government’s interpretation of the 1999 Marshall decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, which held that the 1760-1761 treaties guaranteed that the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and Peskotomuhkati had the right to fish for what they call a moderate livelihood.
Canada interpreted this to mean that Indigenous peoples should have a share of the commercial fishery and negotiated that access. It has given $550 million to Indigenous communities in the years since to increase participation, and Fisheries and Oceans reports that Indigenous landings in 2018 were valued at $140 million.
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But legal experts disagree that the court only wanted to allow entry into a unilaterally regulated fishery. Constance MacIntosh, a law professor at Dalhousie University, said the ruling recognizes more than a treaty-protected right to fish.
“Other Supreme Court of Canada decisions have found that when Indigenous peoples have those rights, with those rights come governance rights,” she said. « So the power to decide how that right is going to be exercised by their own people. »
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Dan Christmas sits on the Senate Fisheries Committee and was the first Mi’kmaw appointed to the Upper House. The permanent solution is to codify the Marshall decision into Canadian law, he said.
« It would be a specific tool that would allow rights-based fishing to be implemented on its own, not integrated into the existing commercial fishing structure, as they are not compatible. »
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Some communities, such as the Listuguj First Nation in Gaspésie, have signed rights and reconciliation agreements establishing the management of the fishery. For Chief Darcy Gray of Listuguj, the next step is for Canada to recognize this right to self-government.
« It’s not necessarily about being able to go out (fish) when we want and how we want, » Gray said. « It’s part of this conversation. »
Representatives of the commercial fishing industry say they are frustrated that they were not invited to speak before the Senate during the drafting of the report on Aboriginal rights.
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It’s « throwing fuel on a fire » in an area where tensions have remained high since 2020, said Colin Sproul, president of the United Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which has about 1,900 members.
Sproul wants to see the creation of a « treaty fishery » exclusively for Indigenous peoples and also « strictly » regulated.
« I can think of no worse action the federal government could take than to follow senators’ clearly nonsensical recommendations to expropriate access to the fishery from Atlantic Canadians, » he said.
“It is based on a distorted sense of reality that fishing communities in Atlantic Canada are responsible for the horrors of colonialism.”
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Gray said reconciliation requires adjustment on everyone’s part.
“You have to look at the historical context where we did this to survive for thousands of years and then we were systematically excluded,” he said. « It has become illegal for us to take care of ourselves, and that is wrong. »
Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray was not made available for an interview. In a statement, her office said it was reviewing the report.
« We’re not naive about it, » Christmas said. « We know it’s a controversial topic, and we know some won’t want any change. »
The Senate asks Fisheries to step down and Crown-Indigenous Relations to lead the negotiations.
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“I like to think the temperature has dropped a lot over the past two years,” said Jaime Battiste, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
While he believes the report could “move in the right direction,” Battiste said he no longer speaks solely from the perspective of a Mi’kmaw MP to assess his own government’s performance.
“Have we done enough? Can we do more? It’s a good question,” he said. “I think we move at the pace of our stakeholders.
Francis said she hoped the federal government would act quickly. « For Canada to ignore this is to ignore itself. »
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