Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil responded to Membertou Chief Terry Paul’s decision to step down as co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, saying he doesn’t believe it will cause major issues with the province.
“We continue to work with not only Membertou but all chiefs across the province,” he said.
“I think it highlights, when you’re dealing with these policy issues, if you’re trying to solve them one community at a time, you create this kind of situation where Chief Terry felt it was better to step away and negotiate on the behalf of Membertou.”
Chief Terry Paul made the announcement Wednesday, saying he’s lost confidence in the organization over time. The decision came five days after moderate livelihood discussions between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the assembly were halted.
He also said he had distrust with some of the issues at hand, specifically with the fishery files.
The elder statesman of the assembly had spent decades as co-chair and has served 36 years as chief of the Membertou First Nation. Last week, he was elected to the position for another four years.
Global News has reached out to the chief for comment on his decision, but a spokesperson for Membertou says he’s been busy in meetings with stakeholders.
“While I understand, there are many employees who work every day for our communities, I have distrust in some of the issues at hand, primarily with the Fisheries files,” Chief Paul said in a statement Wednesday.
Ken Coates, a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, says Chief Paul’s decision to step down as co-chair is an example of the frustration felt by Mi’kmaq communities trying to exercise their right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
“He’s not doing this because he dislikes the people or the organization, he’s taking a very important stand on perhaps the single most important issue facing Mi’kmaq people,” said Coates.
Coates said the timing of the chief stepping down is designed to have an impact on the process of applying more pressure on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“His statements make it clear that he believes that the First Nations and the assembly should be throwing their support behind those who are pushing to expand the moderate livelihood fishery,” he said.
“When you get processes like this, it escalates it and you take it out of the administrative realm and into the political realm.”
Speaking after a cabinet meeting Thursday, McNeil reiterated that he believes commercial fishermen should be at the table for talks between Indigenous leaders and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“To me, the way to find the right solution to this is to have everyone at the table,” the premier said. “As Grand Chief Norman Sylliboy would say, this cannot be solved one community at a time.
“The assembly should be at that table on behalf of all Mi’kmaq communities.”