Cabinet memo urges long-term native solution: ‘Failure to approve strategy would significantly increase risk of conflicts’ 

RICK MOFINA
The Ottawa Citizen 
Wednesday, January 17, 2001

The risk of more conflicts between natives and non-natives in Atlantic Canada will “significantly increase” if a plan to deal with pressures arising from the Marshall decision is not approved, a cabinet memo warns. 

“Events at Burnt Church this past fall have also increased pressures across the country regarding aboriginal (issues) and management of fisheries and other resources,” says the document, obtained by the Citizen. 

“Burnt Church in particular has become a lightning rod for unresolved aboriginal issues across the country, particularly regarding resources access and self-government. At the local level, this has the potential to spread,” the document says. 

It cites Burnt Church as having left in its wake “growing evidence of militancy” or “pressure points” from other First Nations in British Columbia, Quebec, Newfoundland and the Maritimes. 

The memo is dated Dec. 5, just more than a week after the federal vote and the day before Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in his first major post-election speech, promised his government would “promote social justice” for aboriginal Canadians. 

The issue raised in the cabinet memo was whether to proceed with a long-term strategy to address pressures arising from the Marshall decision. 

In its Sept. 17, 1999, ruling in the case of Mi’kmaq Donald Marshall, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a 1779 treaty right allowing natives access to the commercial fishery to earn a “moderate livelihood,” subject to federal regulation. 

Within weeks, confrontations erupted between native and non-native fishermen near Burnt Church, a tiny New Brunswick native community. 

In November 1999, in keeping with the ruling, the government initiated a $159-million plan to create fishing agreements with affected First Nations, aimed at keeping peace on the water while it worked on a long-term solution. 

Of the 34 affected First Nation groups, 30 signed agreements, the memo says. 

Of those not signing an agreement, the Indian Brook band in Nova Scotia and Burnt Church continued fishing illegally. 

Last summer and fall, violence again erupted at Burnt Church, with federal fisheries officers ramming fishing boats, and later reports of gunshots fired in the area, as the government removed what it said were unauthorized lobster traps. 

In proposing a long-term strategy, the memo recognizes the “peace and friendship treaties” signed by the Crown and the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet beginning in 1725. 

“Unlike most historic treaties in Canada, they do not involve the surrender or cession of rights to land and resources.” 

As a result, the memo states, “the Maritime provinces are in this unique situation where treaty rights may co-exist with aboriginal rights and title.” 

The government should build a “sustainable treaty relationship with the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Quebec,” states the document. 

It suggests negotiating a “package of resources” and “economic measures supporting these negotiations,” through the establishment of a “treaty commission” in a long-range plan to be funded until 2005. 

“Failure to approve the proposed strategy would preclude the commencement of negotiations in a timely manner, heighten uncertainty and significantly increase the risk of conflicts between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities next fishing season, exacerbate strained relations between aboriginal groups, governance and stimulate further litigation,” the memo says.