Mi’kmaw chiefs appearing before a Parliamentary committee looking into fishing rights say the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is not upholding its treaty obligations and is only looking to appease non-Indigenous fishers rather than implementing Mi’kmaw rights.
George Ginnish, chief of Eel Ground First Nation in New Brunswick said the Mi’kmaw were recently offered rights reconciliation agreements which would mean as part of the signing process, they would agree not to assert their treaty rights for another 10 years.
“We have not treaty fished for 21 years and to ask us not to do that for another ten while dangling some additional moneys in front of us is an insult,” Ginnish told the federal fisheries committee Monday.
The governmental recognized right for the Mi’kmaw to earn a moderate livelihood from the water stems from the 1999 Supreme Court ruling known as the Marshall decision.
Ginnish, and other Mi’kmaw chiefs, said instead of helping to establish a treaty based fishery, the DFO has looked to suppress Mi’kmaw treaty rights even further.
The DFO’s response to the Marshall decision, according to Ginnish, was to offer money to the Mi’kmaw to advance the purchase of licences, vessels and gear from existing fishers so that they could participate in the existing commercial fishery “under DFO’s rules.
“This was designed to appease non-Indigenous fishers not implement Mi’kmaw rights,” Ginnish explained to the committee. “When you have a negotiator that comes to your chiefs and says ‘here’s the package, here’s the deal, take it or leave it.’ I don’t see how that is negotiation. I don’t see how that begins to address a moderate livelihood.”
Read More: Mi’kmaw Fishing Rights
Chief Darlene Bernard of the Lennox Island First Nation in Prince Edward Island said she has spoken to members of the fisher’s association in P.E.I. on what a moderate livelihood means for them. She says all were in agreement that it means putting in a hard day’s work everyday and getting paid and the end of the week so you can support your family.
“That’s good enough for me. If they’re making that livelihood then we should be able to make the same livelihood in my opinion,” Bernard said.
Both Ginnish and Bernard agree that the DFO is not negotiating in good faith and they want to see Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett take over.
Bernard said the DFO shouldn’t be involved in negotiating Mi’kmaw rights while at the same time enforcing the fisheries industry.
She would like to see Crown Indigenous Relations appointing a negotiator.
Bernard said it’s imperative that Canada understands that it doesn’t have all the answers and can’t meet the challenges presented by the Marshall decision unilaterally.
She said in order to avoid further unrest and litigation, Canada must accept that the process has to be truly cooperative.
“Through Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs, Canada must work with us as a good faith partner on a nation to nation basis, to uphold the constitution,” she said.
“So implement section 35 and I think that just speaks to what needs to happen.”
Also appearing before the committee was Mi’kmaw lawyer Naomi Metallic who was asked by the committee if the implementation of UNDRIP would help the Mi’kmaq plight.
“I think it would help, but why not implement section 35 it’s in our constitution. These are Supreme Court of Canada decisions from our highest court. It’s the law.”
The committee will meet again on Wednesday to hear from DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan.