Who has the right to fish for lobster in Nova Scotia? What are the treaty rights for the First Nations people there? The issue has been heating up recently and the Sipekne'katik people are in the middle of some very intense situations with the Non-Native fishing community. Maureen Googoo is the editor of Ku’ku’kwes News and she’s from the community that’s in the middle of this fight.
Also on the show, our national correspondent Dalton Walker spoke to several mothers who now face uncertainty and enormous medical bills after one Indian Health Service OBGYN clinic closes.
Some words from our guest, Maureen Googoo:
"Oh, if you really want to go way back, this issue has been going on since the late '90s, or I should say since the '90s itself. It started back in 1993 when Donald Marshall Jr, who's a Mi’kmaq. He was charged with catching and selling eels other season without a license. Now, the tribal organizations here in Nova Scotia, the Union of Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq, and the Confederacy of Mi’kmaq, decided to represent him in court. And they decided to use the pre-confederation treaties that were signed between, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy people and the British crown at the time. Those treaties were signed back in the 1700’s and they're classified or referred to as the Peace and Friendship Treaties and those treaties are basically exactly what they say."
"There were guidelines. They were rules on how both the Indigenous people in this region and the European settlers were going to co-exist. And in those treaties, they recognize that the Indigenous people in this region, the three nations that I mentioned, have rights to hunt and fish to sustain themselves, to provide for themselves. And those treaties recognize that."
"So when Donald Marshall Jr. went to court, his lawyers argued that those treaties gave him the right to catch and sell yields for living in the Nova Scotia courts in the mid '90s, he was found guilty and he was fined for violating the Federal Fisheries Act, but he appealed them. And that appeal went all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is the highest court in this country. And on September 17, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the treaties of seven Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and '61 were valid. And basically that it's not that they gave him the right, its that they affirmed that rate existed. So they overturned his convictions."
"Now how legal experts in this region have interpreted that, is that if you're going to limit a treaty rate, you're going to have to justify that. And justification means going back to court and stating your case saying, we're limiting the treaty right on grounds of conservation that hasn't happened."
"So they've never really sat down, like they've sorta sat down with First Nations groups in this region to discuss moderate livelihood and what that means, but they haven't really come to an agreement."
"So what you're seeing right now happening in St. Mary's Bay with the Sipekne'katik First Nation fishers, is that they're not waiting for government to sit down and negotiate what moderate livelihood means. They're just going to practice their treaty rights."
"This issue isn't going away, in fact, more and more First Nations are starting to assert their treaty rights and practice moderate livelihood fishery."
"So that gave them access to the commercial fishery, but they also gave them money to buy boats, gear and to train people to work on those boats. But those interim agreements basically said that if you take this agreement, you're going to abide by the current fishery regulations, which means, fish commercially during the commercial seasons that are already set."
"They locked themselves in and there was a mob of about 200 people threatening to burn them out, throwing rocks at the windows and demanding that they turn over their catch and they weren't going to let them go unless they turned over their catch."
The RCMP arrived, they forced them to leave the building, without their lobster, she said.
"They had over 30 crates of lobster, which represents anywhere between three to 5,000 pounds of lobster. And the mob basically went in and took their lobster and allegedly put it back in the water."
"And then on Friday, that same lobster pound was set on fire, which prompted a really strong response from the government saying violence is unacceptable."
"It's really hard to say. It really is. I was down there last weekend following the the lobster pound, um, being set on fire. People were still practicing their treaty rights. They were still going out to set traps, but the mood was really tense."
"People were anticipating something to happen. People were talking that maybe the non-Indigenous fishermen may try to enter the wharf through the water. So they were keeping extra watch on the waters in the evening."
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Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.
Also on today's show:
Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.
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