Keep fishing, chiefs tell Atlantic Indians: Critics say the Supreme Court of Canada has handed aboriginals unfettered access to fragile fishery resources.

The Vancouver Sun
Thursday, September 30, 1999

FREDERICTON. First Nation chiefs in Atlantic Canada are telling aboriginals to keep on fishing despite mounting tensions throughout the East Coast fishery.

Chiefs from around the region met Wednesday to respond to the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision confirming the treaty right of Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people to hunt and fish year-round and without licences.

Their meeting was held against a backdrop of growing turbulence in the Maritime lobster fishery and fears of violent confrontations on the water between aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishermen.

The chiefs said they're willing to negotiate with fisheries officials and commercial harvesters, and they're recommending the creation of a group to develop regulations for the new fishery.

But they insisted they're not going to pull up their lobster traps while meeting around conference tables.

''Since there's only a small number of native fishermen out there fishing now, we felt that this is not going to hurt the fishing industry in any way and it's not going to deplete any fish stocks,'' said Chief Lawrence Paul of Millbrook, N.S., chairman of the Atlantic Police Congress of First Nations Chiefs.

''We don't think, at this time, our fishermen will do any harm whatsoever to the fishery resource. ''

Paul appealed for patience from commercial fishers who feel the Supreme Court has handed aboriginals an unfair advantage and unfettered access to fragile resources.

Fisheries officers charged three non-native people this week with illegal fishing off Yarmouth, N.S. It was first crackdown since the controversial court ruling.

''The non-Indian fishermen must realize we have the law of the land behind us now,'' Paul said, adding that aboriginals expect the RCMP to protect their right to fish and hunt.

The chiefs decided to ignore an appeal from Donald Marshall Jr., the man behind the Supreme Court decision. The Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq suggested Tuesday that aboriginals stop fishing and negotiate acceptable arrangements for all sides.

''We waited this long,'' Marshall told a radio-call-in show. ''I think we could wait a little longer.''

Paul said that if Marshall really believed that, he should have told the chiefs personally.

He said the chiefs don't trust newspaper reports of Marshall's comments.