First Nations advised not to sign new fishing agreements with Ottawa 

Canadian Broadcast Corporation
Monday, April 2, 2001

HALIFAX – It looks like there may be more trouble on the water during lobster season this year. The fishing deals the federal government had with native bands in Atlantic Canada expired Saturday night.

Not one new agreement has been signed. And in a document obtained by CBC radio, Mi’kmaq chiefs are being told by their lawyers this is the time to stand up for their treaty rights. 

For lawyer Bruce Wildsmith, the equation is clear. Native chiefs who sign agreements to fish are signing away their treaty rights. 

“They’re clearly signing them away for the life of the agreement,” he said. “But that’s not the problem. The problem is what’s going to be made of these agreements in the future?” 

Wildsmith says signing agreements could set a precedent and limit treaty rights. Last year, federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal spoke repeatedly of his department’s success, because 32 of 35 Atlantic bands signed one-year agreements with the federal government. 

This year none have signed. Dhaliwal says that’s OK, he’ll give them access to fish, but with a catch. 

“What they will not be able to have access to is the resources in terms of equipment, training, mentoring,” says Dhaliwal. 

Nova Scotia Chief Lawrence Paul says the federal government is trying to deal with the Mi’kmaq in the same way the Crown did hundreds of years ago. 

“They still have the same mentality: ‘Give them a couple of beads and a few mirrors and stuff and we’ll get what we like.’ You know those days are gone and gone forever,” said Paul. 

At this point it seems the chiefs will take their lawyers’ advice and sign nothing. And that means the tentative calm seen last year in many communities may disappear when the lobster season begins in the next few weeks.{