In a first of its kind in the Maritime region of eastern Canada, employees with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) met with members of the Mi’kmaq community to build a better relationship.
Elder Noel Milliea says the ultimate goal is to change perceptions.
Milliea is from Elsipogtog. He was asked by the DFO to speak at this meeting. The Elder teaches health and healing in his community.
“So when we try to look at the parallels that both of us have, we come to understand a little bit about why we are the way we are on both sides,” said Millieau.
“Why is there so much racism and why is there so much systemic trauma.”
The DFO and the Mi’kmaq dispute over fisheries has a long history.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1999, that the Mi’kmaq had a right to commercially fish and support a moderate livelihood.
The decision, known as the Marshall decision, is based on treaty rights signed in 1760 and 1761.
It was a win for the Mi’kmaq, economically and culturally.
But the decision did not solve the disagreements of how much fish the Mi’kmaq had a right to catch because the two sides haven’t been able to agree upon the definition of moderate livelihood.
This has led to disputes and anger on both sides.
At the three days of meetings, history was discussed – as a shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Trevor Sanipass says it’s the responsibility of everyone to educate themselves and others.
“You know treaties were signed by two parties, so the treaties are not just the Aboriginal treaty it’s by all its their ancestors and our ancestors signed these agreements,” said Sanipass.
The DFO said it wants its staff to become aware, and have a better understanding of Indigenous history.
Debbie Boutt-Matheson said this will help with everyday interactions and perceptions.
”You don’t always necessarily always think about it that way so that for me was a really great sort of dawning moment of I haven’t thought about it like that before and I have to think about it like that,” said Matheson.
According to Millieau, relationships are already improving with the DFO reaching out to the community.
”Hopefully it will make a difference in building relationships meaningful relationships with them in how they engage in our first nations communities,” Milliea said.
Sanipass gives the government credit for taking the step to learn from community members.
”What better way of doing it is really having first nations people, elders, educators, leaders and share this information, not just from our own people but to others as well,” said Sanipass.
The DFO said it plans to offer more staff learning opportunities to develop positive relationships with Indigenous communities.