N.B. premier suspicious of federal motives in talks for modern native treaty

CHRIS MORRIS, Canadian Press
The National Post
Thursday, January 25, 2001

FREDERICTON. Premier Bernard Lord suspects Ottawa is looking for a way to spread the pain – and the blame – arising from the contentious issue of aboriginal treaty rights. 

The New Brunswick premier said Thursday that federal Indian Affairs Minister Bob Nault has no reason to be critical of the province’s reluctance to become involved in efforts to hammer out a modern self-government treaty with natives. 

“I think we have to take some of the comments of Mr. Nault with a grain of salt,” Lord said. 

Nault said recently that the Lord government’s unwillingness to participate in negotiations for a modern treaty, as well as a split among the province’s chiefs on how to proceed, has hobbled his chances of success in the short term. 

Nault has decided instead to focus on Nova Scotia, where the province is on side, and Prince Edward Island and Quebec, where there is unanimous agreement among the chiefs. 

Nault is trying to place the 18 Peace and Friendship Treaties, signed betwen the British and the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet nations between 1725 and 1761, in a modern context. 

He has described it as a self-government agreement, with the goal of building a First Nations economy. 

But Lord said it’s premature to discuss a modern treaty in New Brunswick, where several native bands remain determined to pursue self-government on their own terms. 

The Conservative premier said he’s suspicious of Ottawa’s motives. 

“I think maybe they’re trying to download some of their issues,” Lord said. “I think the federal government has to deal with its issues and as a provincial government we’re more than willing to work with them and address the issues of mutual concern and responsibility. 

“I think they have more than one agenda, perhaps. What’s really important is the government of New Brunswick is prepared to work with the federal government, but it has to take its own responsibility in these files.” 

New Brunswick was the scene of some of the most divisive battles arising out of the Surpeme Court of Canada’s 1999 decision in the Donald Marshall case. The court ruled that the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people of the Maritimes and Quebec have a right to a moderate living from hunting, fishing and gathering. 

The Marshall decision sparked confrontations in New Brunswick forests, as natives tried to harvest wood and hunt game under their own rules. 

But the most serious showdowns came in fishing, which falls under Ottawa’s jurisdiction, as the Mi’kmaq people of Burnt Church, N.B., tried to fish lobster in defiance of federal regulations. 

The standoff between the federal Fisheries Department and Burnt Church led to dangerous confrontations on the waters of Miramichi Bay last summer and fall, and the issue remains unresolved as another fishing season approaches. 

Lord said the province is working on its own with aboriginal leaders to improve education and economic development opportunities for native people. 

But he’s not keen to wade into the controversial waters surrounding treaty rights and fishing – a matter clearly within federal jurisdiction. 

“With regards to the desire to talk about a new modern treaty, we have to make sure all the parties want it,” Lord said. “We’re not there yet.”