‘Get on board,’ ministers warn

Windspeaker Staff
March, 2001, Vol.18, Issue 11

National Chief Matthew Coon Come reports the Atlantic chiefs are willing to reserve judgement on the recently announced treaty process in Atlantic Canada.

It was revealing, he said, that it took a year-and-a-half for the federal government to come up with a forum for discussing how to react when the Supreme Court says a policy is legally wrong – which is essentially what happened in the Marshall decision. 

But even if creating this treaty process was the right thing to do (and we aren’t sure of that) there has still been no recognition or explanation for the more than 200 years when Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people were excluded from the various commercial fisheries. They had to pay with their own scarce resources to take the fight through the Canadian court system just to have their treaty right affirmed.

You’d think, considering how poorly the government has treated the Atlantic Indigenous peoples that it would be a little sheepish about flexing the same muscle that backed up the exclusion to the resource that started the legal fight in the first place. But, alas, that’s not the case.

Both the Indian Affairs minister and the Fisheries and Oceans minister made a point of saying that more enforcement action awaits Burnt Church and Indian Brook if they don’t fall in line with the new process. 

“There’s not much more we can offer as a government and if people choose to implement their treaty rights unilaterally you will have the kinds of issues that confronted us last year,” warned Nault.

“You know, we have a choice. My choice is to spend the money that I’ve been provided to provide access rather than spending money on enforcement,” Dhaliwal chimed in. We don’t hear too much respect for “partners” in those remarks. Not much sign of an even, nation-to-nation playing field, either. Sounds more like Canada arbitrarily setting the rules from the top down again.” 

Andrea Bear Nicholas, chair of the Native Studies department at St. Thomas University, has written a widely circulated essay that has one view of what’s going on. “It translates as a need to stay in charge, if only to preserve the status quo,” she wrote. “Conservation is not the issue since lobsters are not endangered, nor were they endangered by the Burnt Church fishery. The fact is Burnt Church has its own conservation plan that DFO simply refuses to consider. The real issue is that Canada has been built on the appropriation of Aboriginal lands and resources, and it is not now prepared either to acknowledge this fact or share even a small portion of those lands and resources.” 

The government will actually spend an amount of money that has been rumored to be in the $500-million range so that Atlantic First Nations can take a $20 million share of a $400-to $500-million fishery. 

If the treaty process ends up resembling the B.C. process, then what that money buys, it seems to us, is a chance for Ottawa to keep the upper hand. that are now in place expire at the end of March.