N.S. activists won't abandon Idle No More
Grassroots movement began late October
Aboriginal activists in Nova Scotia say they have no intention of abandoning the Idle No More movement despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper's promise to meet with native leaders.
Idle No More, which began in late October, is a grassroots movement made up of people who mainly want to stop Bill C-45, a second omnibus budget bill that will change the legislation contained in dozens of acts including the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.
In addition to the legislative changes, those involved in the movement were angered by what they call a lack of consultation with indigenous peoples. Members of the movement have also expressed concern about other acts and bills from the federal government.
Cheryl Maloney, with the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, said she jumped into the Idle No More movement at the Indian Brook First Nation to force the federal government to finally recognize the Marshall decision on native fishing rights.
"They tied us up into five-year agreements," said Maloney.
"When those agreements ran out, it was silence. Dead silence. They just acted like the treaty right isn't there."
In 1996, Donald Marshall Jr. was convicted after he caught and sold 210 kilograms of eels out of season and without a licence.
But Marshall successfully argued that an ancient treaty gave him the right to catch and sell fish for commercial purposes and in 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled First Nations people had a treaty right to fish and sell their catch to earn what the court called "a moderate livelihood."
First Nations fishermen started exercising that right almost immediately after the top court's decision, which led to confrontations on water and on land as people began fishing with no regard for federal licencing, quotas or conservation plans.
'They haven't moved on it'
Maloney said the five-year agreements that were worked out between bands and Fisheries and Oceans Canada were nothing more than delay tactics to keep peace and buy time.
She said what's needed now is federal legislation that permanently recognizes First Nations people's treaty right to fish.
"I have a fishing boat that's not fishing now. I should be able to go out and put the boat in the water and fish it for a moderate livelihood," said Maloney.
"We've been waiting for them to say, 'This is how we're going to manage it together.' They haven't moved on it."
Bruce Wildsmith, a legal advisor to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs, said he understands the frustration behind Nova Scotia's Idle No More movement.
"More than 13 years after the Donald Marshall case, there is no livelihood fishery operating in Nova Scotia. Why is that?" he asked.
"There appears to be no will on the part of Canada to actually provide a mandate and sit down and negotiate."
Aboriginal leaders from the Indian Brook First Nation and from communities all over the Maritimes are set to meet in Moncton on Tuesday for a meeting of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.
On Friday, Harper is set to meet with a delegation of First Nations chiefs including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11 — the day after Idle No More's National Day of Action.