Feds to spend $500M on native fishery, reserves

The Toronto Star
Tuesday, January 30, 2001

HALIFAX (CP) – The departments of Indian Affairs and Fisheries have earmarked $500 million to help natives in the fishery and expand reserves throughout Atlantic Canada, sources confirmed Tuesday.

The fund, to be spread out over three years, is expected to be announced within two weeks, said the source, adding it has been approved by an ad hoc cabinet committee and was to go to cabinet for discussion this week.Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal wouldn’t confirm the fund, but said he plans on making an announcement soon on how the department will handle the native fishery.”Sometime next week we hope we can provide a more expansive direction on where we’re going,” Dhaliwal said Tuesday in Ottawa after the throne speech. ”But right now would be premature.”The main component of the strategy deals with getting more natives into the fishery by purchasing licences and paying for training, said one source.They also said some of the money will used to buy land to expand reserves in need of more space.Money will also be used internally at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for salaries and other expenses related to the implementation of the Marshall decision, the source said.The fund arose out of a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that Mi’kmaq and Maliseet bands in Atlantic Canada and Quebec have the right to earn a moderate living from hunting, fishing and gathering.The court, which was ruling on the case of native fisherman Donald Marshall, issued a subsequent clarification that said DFO had the right to regulate the resources.Some native leaders were skeptical of the initiative, saying they would like to see Ottawa not tie the funding to particular economic opportunities and allow natives to determine where it should be spent.”Let the Mi’kmaq be self-determining and see what they can do with that money,” said Bernd Christmas, a native lawyer and negotiator.”It’s great that $500 million is coming into the economy, but let’s make sure it gets there.”The federal government is trying to come up with a strategy to deal with the native fishery before the spring lobster seasons open on the East Coast.The fund continues a federal effort began last year to improve native access to the fishery through interim agreements that expire in March. The deals, which provided training, equipment and licences to native bands, cost Ottawa $160 million.Dhaliwal said he hopes all 34 Atlantic bands will sign the deals that will likely last three to five years, but said he realizes some might hold out.Burnt Church in New Brunswick and the Indian Brook band in Nova Scotia both refused to sigh the deals, claiming they undermined inherent aboriginal treaty right to the fishery.DFO officials and native fishermen clashed violently last summer and fall, as natives from both reserves defied Ottawa by fishing out of season and without federal tags.Natives say they’re hoping to prevent more confrontations on the water by trying to develop a national fishery strategy they plan to submit to Ottawa.Aboriginal leaders from across the country were meeting in Halifax on Tuesday to come up with the strategy that will deal with treaty implementation and fishing rights.