First Nations work towards national fisheries strategy

First Nations Messenger
March/April 2001
Volume 3, No. 2


First Nations fishermen, chiefs and technicians came together in Halifax in January for the Assembly of First Nations’ National Fisheries Conference entitled, Netukulimk: “A Way to Make a Living”. The parties came together to discuss how First Nations can work together to advance their rights and res-ponsibilities with respect to fisheries, and to develop a National Fisheries Strategy and explore ways in which it can be effectively implemented. “There’s all kinds of frustration, a cloud of uncertainty, a fear because of what they saw happen last year,” said National Chief Matthew Coon Come. “So there’s tremendous pressure to come up with a national strategy.” Discussion focused on the exercise of Aboriginal and treaty fishing rights, management and planning, economic opportunities and barriers, and international aspects of fisheries. One of the main issues discussed was whether First Nations should negotiate with the federal government on agreements for the upcoming fishing season. Most bands in the Atlantic had signed the one-year interim deals that provided them with money, new fishing equipment and training in exchange for following federal fishery regulations. These agreements will expire March 31, 2001. In February, the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) announced the federal government’s long-term strategy to address the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision and build a sustainable treaty relationship with Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities. The federal strategy is a two-track process which includes plans to spend $500 million over the next three years. DIAND’s objective is to reach long-term agreement on issues of Aboriginal and treaty rights. DFO plans to negotiate fishing agreements that will provide increased First Nation access to the fishery on an immediate basis. The new agreements could last up to three years. Chief Reg Maloney of Indian Brook in N.S., who has spoken out against piecemeal talks, says this offer is “another flood of money drowning our treaty rights”. The communities of Indian Brook and Burnt Church, N.B. were among the few bands who refused to sign agreements last year, claiming they undermined inherent Aboriginal treaty rights to the fishery. Chief Maloney wants First Nations to resist signing any further interim or long-term fishing agreements in a show of solidarity against Ottawa. “I would like to see some sort of support for the implementation of the treaty rights,” he said. “And there is a lot of talk about people not signing. But when it comes down to everybody doing it, that has to be seen,” he said.

CP Photo(Andrew Vaughan) Members of the Eastern Eagle Drum Group from Indian Brook First Nation perform at the opening of a national fisheries conference held by the Assembly of First Nations in Halifax, N.S