Ruling revives Native fishery on east coast

The London Free Press
Wednesday, September 22, 1999

HALIFAX. Maritime Mi'kmaq have taken the landmark Donald Marshall ruling and gone fishing.

Lobster fishers from at least two bands have defied federal fishing seasons and taken to the water since a Supreme Court of Canada ruling Friday upholding a 1760 treaty that gives East Coast bands the right to hunt and fish for sustenance without a licence.

"There's just the decision to go on, so people are going fishing and they're going to sell their catch," Margaret Sark, a councillor with P.E.I.'s Lennox Island First Nation, said yesterday.

Lennox Island fishers dropped traps in their traditional fishing grounds in Malpeque Bay on P.E.I's north shore yesterday morning -- despite a call from federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal on Monday for everyone to "show goodwill and to exercise patience and restraint."

Sark said her people have waited long enough.

"(The federal government) had 200-and-some years to get ready," she said. "They've had all this time to decide what they want to do.

"We're just going to go ahead. They can come along whenever they're ready."

Lennox Island followed fishers at the 1,100-member Burnt Church reserve north of Miramichi, N.B., who were on the water within hours of the ruling. A spokesperson for the band said 250 to 750 lobster traps had been set in and around Miramichi Bay.

Wayne Easter, Dhaliwal's parliamentary secretary and a P.E.I. MP, said native fishers should "cool it" until federal officials discuss new conservation measures with native leaders, commercial fishers and the provinces.

Commercial fishers have expressed fears about the potential plundering of resources by unregulated native fishers. Some have even suggested violence could result.

But native leaders have said they'll adhere to strict conservation measures.

Marshall, better known for the 11 years he was imprisoned for a murder he didn't commit, appealed a 1996 conviction for catching and selling 210 kilograms of eels out of season and without a licence.

The Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq argued a 240-year-old treaty signed by natives and the British Crown gave him the right to fish for sustenance.

The court agreed, laying down the most definitive statement to date of a native right to hunt, fish and "gather" for money.

Previous rulings have upheld hunting and fishing out of season for food and ceremonial purposes.