Canadian natives try to find consensus in national fishing strategy
Sunday, January 28, 2001
HALIFAX (CP) – Ottawa risks provoking another season of angry confrontations on the water if it refuses to include native fishermen in the management of the lucrative resource, say aboriginal leaders. Natives from across the country are meeting in Halifax to come up with a national fishing strategy they hope will prevent violent conflicts like those last year along the East Coast.
Some fear there will be more dangerous disputes if the federal government continues to sign piecemeal agreements with reserves.
“This paternalistic attitude of the federal government has got to be put to bed,” Second Peter Barlow, chief of New Brunswick’s Indian Island First Nation, said Monday.
“That is not the federal government dictating to the aboriginal people what is in our best interests.”
Native leaders are trying to develop a national strategy to deal with Ottawa as the federal government gets ready to begin another round of negotiations with them over the lobster fishery.
“There’s tremendous pressure here to come up with some kind of national strategy but they know full well that we can’t do it by ourselves,” Matthew Coon Come, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said at the three-day meeting.
“There’s all kinds of frustration, a cloud of uncertainty and fear because of what (natives) saw the last time.”
Natives want to come up with a plan to submit to Ottawa on how they would manage the fishery, an issue that led to violent confrontations between the Fisheries Department and natives in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The leaders say the strategy would likely include a system that allows natives to participate in the management of the resource.
They want to have the strategy drafted before Ottawa sits down with bands in the Atlantic region to negotiate agreements over the management of the fishery.
Most bands in Atlantic Canada signed one-year lobster fishing agreements with Ottawa last year. They expire in March and the federal government is hoping to come away with deals that could last up to five years.
Some say they could have a tougher time convincing bands to sign the deals after federal fisheries officials clashed with native fishermen from Burnt Church, N.B., and Indian Brook in Nova Scotia last summer.
The two reserves both refused to sign the deals and openly defied Ottawa’s control over the resource by fishing out of season and without federal tags.
Many of the Atlantic chiefs agreed last fall to not sign any more deals until the contentious situation with Burnt Church was resolved, said Indian Brook Chief Reg Maloney.
“The First Nations must work together and remain united in the face of government,” Maloney said Monday, as natives watched a Fisheries Department video of officers in a standoff with Indian Brook fishermen at a wharf in St. Mary’s Bay.
Coon Come said all of the reserves are watching how Ottawa handles the Burnt Church reserve and will decide largely from that how to proceed with their own deals.
“If we don’t resolve it I’m very concerned it might go in the direction that we all want to avoid,” said Coon Come, who spent several days in Burnt Church last year during the dispute.
The fishing deals are in accordance with a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that said Mi’kmaqs and Maliseets have a treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from hunting, fishing and gathering.
The deals – which often come with money, new fishing equipment and training – also include conditions that restrict when natives can fish and require them to have proper Fisheries Department tags.
Coon Come dismissed suggestions Monday that there was division between natives who had signed the deals and those who had refused.