The First Nation that launched a moderate livelihood fishery in September says they’re disappointed with the draft deal proposed by Ottawa.
Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation released an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday evening, calling on him to ensure that the Indigenous right to a moderate livelihood is recognized by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
“I am calling upon you, Mr. Trudeau, to ensure the Honour of the Crown,” the letter reads.
The Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its moderate livelihood lobster fishery in September, exercising a treaty right that all Indigenous nations in Eastern Canada have, which is to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood.”
It was a right further recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Marshall decision.
Although the term “moderate livelihood” was not formally defined by the court, a subsequent decision ruled that the government has the authority to impose some regulations for the purposes of conservation, subject to nation-to-nation consultations.
But in the 21 years since the Marshall decision was handed down, those negotiations have never occurred and the Sipekne’katik First Nation has argued that the DFO’s failure means their fishery is permissible.
The Sipekne’katik have since been joined by the Pictou Landing First Nation and the Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton. Other bands, such as the Bear River and Membertou First Nations, have declared intentions to launch their own moderate livelihood fisheries.
The federal government has taken the position that the treaty rights must be respected although they’ve disagreed on how that might work.
Late last month, Sack said he had received a draft agreement about a moderate livelihood fishery from the office of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan.
At the time, he described it as a potentially groundbreaking recognition of Indigenous treaty rights in Canada.
But after reviewing the document, Sack says in the letter published on Thursday that Sipekne’katik “remains very disappointed in the documents’ intent and content.”
“They give us an MOU that was talking about a very limited number of boats able to fish. They talked about going to dictate about when we are going to fish and it also talked about, it didn’t reference our treaty right at all within it,” Sack explained to Global News in an interview on Friday.
Sack said he was disappointed with the federal government’s draft document.
He believes that the government’s response is being shaped by the commercial fishing industry, many of whom are not Indigenous and oppose the moderate livelihood fishery.
That opposition has turned violent with fishing lines being slashed or damaged and buildings being ransacked by crowds as large as 200 people.
Commercial fishers say the moderate livelihood fisheries are illegal and should not be operating outside of the regulated season as it poses a danger to conservation efforts and the long-term health of the lobster stock in the region.
First Nations in Nova Scotia, as well as fisheries experts, have disagreed with their assessment.
On Friday, Sack said that the position of commercial fishers is quite clear.
“They are pressuring politicians which is trying to change the treaties,” he said.
That’s why Sack is not happy with the DFO.
That’s why he’s not happy with the DFO. He said the bureaucracy within the department is preventing a meaningful solution from being reached.
“Things aren’t going anywhere fast enough,” Sack said
“I firmly believe (the draft deal) is a waste of paper and a waste of their time.”
The DFO says it is continuing to work collaboratively towards an agreement.
— With files from Global News’ Jesse Thomas