Ottawa proposing new treaties with natives

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Saturday, January 13, 2001

MONCTON, N.BOut with the old treaties and in with the new. That’s the idea Ottawa is proposing with First Nations in the Maritimes and so far the chief of Big Cove likes it. 

  

“We are nations unto ourselves.” 

Micmac and Maliseet natives believe they have the right to fish, hunt and log in New Brunswick under treaties signed hundreds of years ago. They say court rulings, such as the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision in 1998, support that claim.

That has led to confrontations in New Brunswick’s forests and on the waters of Miramichi Bay.

Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault has now suggested both sides begin a consultation process to interpret those treaties. Following his meeting Thursday night with native leaders, there was some optimism that this could be a major step forward. 

  

“The latest one, Marshall, was based on native people having the right to fish, hunt and gather, says Big Cove chief Robert Levi. “OK, let’s find out exactly what that means. We’ve seen what happened last year in terms of interim agreements and what happened in Burnt Church.”

Nault says he was disappointed that native leaders in New Brunswick, unlike Nova Scotia, refused to accept the provincial government as an equal partner in the treaty discussions. 

Peter Barlow of the Union of New Brunswick Indians made that clear after the meeting: 

“We are nations unto ourselves and we enter into nation to nation agreements.” 

But Robert Levi points out that when talks turn to provincial resources like timber, it’s obvious the Lord government will have to become involved, 

  

“If at any point in time, there is provincial jurisdiction involved, of course they have to be involved. So, we’re not closing the door on them.” 

Levi says he’ll recommend the government’s proposal to his band. He hopes the process can get underway soon. He says the sooner aboriginal rights are agreed upon, the better it will be for both native and non-natives in New Brunswick.