N.S. native urges chiefs to consider his battle before signing fish deals
By ALISON AULD
Thursday, April 26th 2001
HALIFAX. “A defiant native chief decried the lack of unity amongst Atlantic Canadian aboriginals on Thursday, as most appeared willing to sign fishing deals that he’s convinced will diminish newly won treaty rights. Indian Brook Chief Reg Maloney said he had hoped to see the region’s 34 native bands refrain from signing the federal deals, but understands that the provision of fishing resources and money could be proving too hard to resist.
The chief, who is locked in a legal battle with Ottawa over the seizure of fishing gear from his reserve near Shubenacadie, N.S., is one of four band leaders who have previously refused to sign deals with Ottawa.
“I want to say thank you to those bands that have not signed,” Maloney said Thursday at the chief’s first meeting to review the agreements.
“I hope and pray that Shubenacadie’s legal fight will not be compromised by those bands that do sign.”
The chief, speaking to a hushed room full of other native leaders, said he still fears that Ottawa will use the deals to curtail natives’ rights in the future.
The large, land-locked band has consistently refused to sign fishing agreements with Ottawa, claiming it has inherent treaty rights to the resource and can manage it with its own conservation plans.
The band’s refusal to sign and Maloney’s plea for unity has caused divisions in the native community that has tried to maintain an appearance of solidarity in its disputes with Ottawa.
Many chiefs say they are not under any pressure to sign the deals, but others admit it can be difficult when impoverished reserves are faced with the choice of fighting for native rights or securing funding for their people.
“There’s a lot of bands that are hurting and a lot of bands that are unemployed,” said Chris Bonnell, a councillor from Burnt Church, N.B. One native leader said only five bands out of 34 don’t plan on signing the deals.
Maloney has said he will not sign new fishing agreements replacing deals that expired on March 31. Talks between native lawyers and Ottawa had stalled over wording of the new deals.
Natives say they’re satisfied with the wording Ottawa conceded to last week, which they say will not allow any new deals to infringe on their treaty rights.
“There are some niggling problems, but they’re not insurmountable,” lawyer Bruce Wildsmith said Thursday.
Each native band will determine the specifics of the deals, which are reportedly valued in total at about $500 million over several years and include money for training and gear.
Ottawa, which spent more than $200 million last year on the interim one-year deals, was hoping to have all the deals in place before fishermen started heading out on to the water last month.
The bands still have access to the fishery under last year’s deals, but will not get any of the perks that come with them.
It was also hoped the deals might quell tensions that have lingered since violence erupted last summer and fall in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia over the native fishery.
Natives in Burnt Church and Indian Brook clashed with officers from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who insist the natives were involved in an illegal fishery.
Bonnell said the band is still unwilling to sign, but that it’s too early to know whether the
“We’re sticking to our plans,” he said.
“The Supreme Court gave us the right to fish. Are they going to continue watering it down, stating we can’t fish? No, we’re going to fish.”