Federal plan for Mi’kmaq fishery headed in ‘wrong direction’ says senator

Sen. Dan Christmas says DFO ignored advice from Mi’kmaw parliamentarians last fall.

Independent Sen. Dan Christmas called out Canada’s federal minister responsible for fisheries and oceans saying Bernadette Jordan’s plan for the Mi’kmaw fishery is “headed completely in the wrong direction.

“This new regime signals a continuation of a colonial, top-down, prescriptive approach to the relationship with Maritime Indigenous Peoples and Canada,” Christmas, who is from the Mi’kmaw Nation of Membertou said in a statement released Thursday.

“One would think that such postures had ended – yet, here we are dealing with new shades of governance reminiscent of the Indian Act.”

On Wednesday, Jordan sent a letter to Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack outlining what her department is “prepared” to allow for the moderate fishery to take place.

It focused on the fact that any fishery Mi’kmaw nations come up with must work under current fisheries’ laws.

The plan was outright rejected by Sack – and Christmas.

“It dismisses (Jordan’s plan) the pursuit of a Nation-to-Nation, treaty relationship,” Christmas said Thursday, ‘it abrogates and derogates the constitutionally-protected right of self governance; it completely disrespects the Mi’kmaw traditional law of Netukulimk (a Mi’kmaw concept that focuses on the balance between people and the environment) – and it totally abandons the duty to consult, as there was absolutely no consultation with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs on this policy statement.”

Harvesters in the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched what is called a moderate livelihood fishery in the fall.

They were met with violence from non-Indigenous fishers – and a federal bureaucracy that seemed less interested in Mi’kmaw harvesters being attacked than the fact that they were fishing out of season according to documents obtained by APTN News.

Critics said that fishing out of season would harm the stocks – a theory that has long since been dismissed by fishery scientists.

The term moderate livelihood was coined by the Supreme Court when it released its decision on Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaw man who was charged and convicted of fishing and selling eels out of season. The court ruled that while Marshall broke rules under the fisheries act, no laws were broken.

The high court didn’t give the Mi’kmaq the right to fish, but recognized and upheld the right enshrined in the Treaties.

The court then issued a second decision with a clarification that this right would be regulated by Canada if conservation was at stake.

But Canada has done little to negotiate the terms of a moderate livelihood fishery with Mi’kmaq harvesters since then.

Sen. Dan Christmas
Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack at a news conference Wednesday. Photo: Angel Moore/APTN.

Jordan’s letter insisted that the Mi’kmaw fishery must be monitored under the guise of science and conservation – something Christmas rejected.

“Minister Jordan’s statement is based on the false assessment that conservation is a key issue with a moderate livelihood fishery,” Christmas said in the statement. “This is just not so, and DFO’s own numbers attest to this.”

Jordan spoke with APTN National News Thursday and said that what DFO is proposing is “extremely different” than what has been offered in the past.

“With any fishery there’s a lot more to it than a season that it’s fished in. For example, with the moderate livelihood authorization, communities, First Nations communities can determine who’s fishing the licenses, they can determine the amount of boats that are going out, they will be able to sell their catch. Currently because it’s not an authorized fishery they’re not able to do that and this is going to make it possible to sell their catch,” Jordan said.

Host Dennis Ward asked Jordan about the concerns raised in Christmas’ statement but she didn’t address them in her response.

He also asked Jordan about the fact DFO officials were warned in advance that Mi’kmaw fishers were likely to face violence during their fishery but did nothing to prevent it. She didn’t address that issue either.

Christmas said in his statement that at the end of September, “Mi’kmaw parliamentarians – myself, PEI Senator Brian Francis and Cape Breton MP Jaime Battiste” wrote to Jordan to offer advice and guidance in an attempt to avoid “regressive actions such as this.”

He said the recommendations apparently have “fallen upon deaf ears.

“If only DFO would listen and what’s more, hear from the courts, moderate livelihood First Nations fishers, and from the communities who support them,” he said.

“Until it does, we remain in rough waters – the same rough waters that the Marshall decision sought to quell over two decades ago. And that’s difficult to reconcile.”

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