Talks on aboriginal issues are a good start 

Thursday, June 7, 2001 

It’s time for government and native officials to pick up the phone and give Tom Molloy a call. 

He’s the federal government’s chief negotiator for Atlantic Canada on aboriginal issues and he’s trying to get a comprehensive negotiation process started. 

Already he’s met with members of the Mawiw Council – the group that represents Burnt Church, Big Cove and Tobique – and some provincial deputy ministers, a sort of get-to-know-me meeting of brief introductions and invitations to come to the negotiating table. 

Phone calls have also been exchanged between his office and the Union of New Brunswick Indians but to date no meeting has been held. 

Mr. Molloy says it’s time to talk – really talk – about what kind of future Mi’kmaqs, Maliseets and the rest of us can hope to have in New Brunswick. 

So the invitations have been sent out and now he’s just waiting for everyone to RSVP. 

Let’s hope they do. 

This is it, the negotiations the provincial government, the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet have been demanding for years. 

Finally the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has stepped forward to tackle the issues raised by the 1999 Marshall decision. 

To date it has been largely left unaddressed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which has concentrated on enforcement of existing regulations rather than the broader ideas wrapped around aboriginal and treaty rights. 

Dealing with that is Mr. Molloy’s job and he intends to tackle it province by province. 

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs may stand united but its 34 member chiefs will sit down at four separate tables to negotiate four separate agreements. 

In New Brunswick that table will have three seats – one each for aboriginal communities, the provincial government and Mr. Molloy – and they will discuss issues and rights pertaining specifically to New Brunswick. 

The same will occur in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé Bay in Quebec. 

For New Brunswick natives it means off-shore resources won’t be on the table, at least not those found off the coast of Sable Island or the recent exploration begun within P.E.I.’s waters. 

Mr. Molloy says if New Brunswick natives want royalties or access to Sable Island – something the Union of Nova Scotia Indians has expressed interest in – they will have to approach the Nova Scotia government on their own. 

Those resources exist beyond the boundaries of New Brunswick and therefore won’t be discussed here. 

By the same token, Mi’kmaqs living outside New Brunswick will not be talking about Miramichi Bay and its lobster stocks. 

It’s a strong message – one that states that while native groups may not recognize provincial boundaries, the Canadian government certainly does. 

So what will be on the table? 

Well the federal government brings fish, migratory birds, national parks and some environmental issues. Not a whole lot there. 

New Brunswick brings the land, the resources on that land (such as forests) and wildlife management. 

No wonder Mr. Molloy wants Mr. Green, the minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, to join the process. 

He hopes to hear back from everyone by the end of the summer and have negotiators appointed for each group soon thereafter. 

Then they’ll begin to talk in earnest, trying to hash out a comprehensive deal that will likely take years to reach. 

But Mr. Molloy doesn’t want either the provincial government or native groups to come to him expecting a solution to all the problems. 

“The treaty concept is not a panacea. It is one tool in a series of tools to change the relationship,” he said. 

“We are not the whole answer for righting what people allege to be wrongs.” 

He’s right, but at least it’s a start.