New Brunswick

Indigenous people don't want to be excluded from snow crab fishery, national chief says

The Assembly of First Nations National Chief says Canada needs to respect First Nations jurisdiction when it comes to the snow crab fishery. 

Assembly of First Nations annual gathering takes place in Fredericton this week

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is in Fredericton this week for the 40th annual general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations. (CBC News)

Canada needs to respect First Nations jurisdiction when it comes to the snow crab fishery, says Perry Bellegarde,  national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Last week about 25 Members of Natoaganeg First Nation, also known as Eel Ground First Nation, gathered outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to protest the band's lack of access to the lucrative fishery.

"First Nations are not going to exploit the resource to where there's nothing," Bellegarde said Monday in Fredericton. 

"We have co-management. We have our elder's traditional knowledge. We want to make sure the resource is there to sustain everybody. We don't want to exploit it, but we don't want to be excluded either." 

In May, fishermen from the community had the backing of the band council when they began fishing snow crab in the Gulf of St. Lawrence without an agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

But dozens of their traps were seized by the department.

Eel Ground First Nation protesters outside of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in Moncton last week. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"Rights have to be respected, honoured and implemented because the treaty relationship was all about peaceful co-existence, mutual respect and mutually sharing the land and resources together. Not domination and colonization and oppression," Bellegarde said.

Working together as a nation 

Indigenous leaders from across Canada are in Fredericton this week for the 40th annual general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations.

It's a chance to talk about the challenges facing Canada and its relationship with its first peoples and First Nations government.

The assembly will take place Tuesday to Thursday under the theme "Celebrating our Successes and Giving Thanks."

Bellegarde said the event is also a chance to hold government to account. 

The truth about Canada's history has to be taught.- Source

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said no relationship is more important to him and to Canada than the one with First Nations, the Métis Nation and Inuit Peoples.

"We've got to start working together and hold this federal government to account," said Bellegarde.

"Make sure those words mean something. Make sure those words come to life."

About 25 protesters met outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on Monday to demand a share of the snow crab quota. 1:03

Bellegarde said more work needs to be done in terms of housing, access to clean water, investment in education and getting the more than 40,000 children out of foster care.

"According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Canada is rated 12 in terms of quality of life. But for First Nations people, we are 72."

"There's a gap."

Learning from the past

Bellegarde said Canadians need to work together so everyone can enjoy the same quality of life. And more First Nations people need to be helping to create policy and legislation. 

"People don't understand that historically there have been a lot of hurdles from our participation fully into society," he said. "It's taken long because we've had to face the effects of residential schools, genocide, Indian act colonisation."

As an example, he cited the right to vote, which First Nations people didn't get until 1960.

"The truth about Canada's history has to be taught," he said. "Let's learn from the past. We don't need to live there but let's learn from that, so we don't make those same mistakes going forward again. We're all in this country together."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton