The federal government recently announced conditions regulating the Mi’kmaq livelihood fishery. These conditions propose to limit the livelihood fishery to the commercial season already set out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and propose to give Indigenous fishers access to commercial fisheries through voluntary buyouts of existing licences. According to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, these conditions were imposed without adequate consultation or scientific justification.
Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan claims that these conditions will contribute to conservation of lobster stocks, but this concept of conservation is rooted in a profit-based resource extraction economy. This is a very different approach to natural resources than what is being put forward under the “moderate livelihood fishery,” a term being used throughout the media’s coverage. With a moderate livelihood fishery, the idea isn’t to get rich – the idea is to use natural resources responsibly to allow people to live a decent life. This is the Mi’kmaq principle of Netukulimk: to “use the natural bounty provided by the Creator” sufficient to ensure “the self-support of the individual and the community.” Read more about Netukulimk. You can read more about neoliberalism vs. Mi’maq Rights.
This modern conflict about Mi’kmaq fishing rights is rooted in the Treaties of Peace and Friendship that were signed in the 1700s. They were signed between the British Crown and Indigenous Nations in the East (varying depending on the Treaty), including the Mi’kmaq Nation, and formed early nation-to-nation agreements with responsibilities intended to be upheld by both parties.
Again and again, Britain, and now Canada, failed to uphold their end of the bargain. In recent years, many Indigenous Nations have been forced to use the Canadian court system to fight for their treaty rights, including Donald Marshall Jr. back in 1996-99 who fought in court to have the Mi’kmaw right to fish (and hunt and trade) respected as it is outlined in the Treaty of 1752. The Supreme Court decision was in favour of Marshall and called on the federal government to work with the Mi’kmaq to come to some agreement on terms for a livelihood fishery.
The federal government has ignored both their treaty and Canadian legal obligations for too long. Their unwillingness to consult meaningfully with the Mi’kmaw and justify limitations has created a situation where non-Indigenous fishers have enacted violence on Mi’kmaw community members when they exercise their Treaty rights.
The Mi’kmaw plan to continue building a livelihood fishery on their own terms. The Council of Canadians is calling on the federal government to work with the Mi’kmaw in a way that centers Mi’kmaq sovereignty and inherent rights.