Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw harvester ID cards called a step toward self-governance

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs has created a new system for identifying who has treaty hunting and fishing rights in the province, with a new harvester identification card.

Paqtnkek Chief Paul Prosper says the Mi'kmaw are the ones who should determine who has treaty rights

Under the Wula Na Kinu (This Is Who We Are) process, harvester cards are issued to those with an ancestral connection to a recognized Mi'kmaq family name, and who are accepted by the Mi'kmaq Nation. (Parks Canada)

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs has created a new system for identifying who has treaty hunting and fishing rights in the province.

Mi'kmaw who qualify can now apply for a new harvester identification card.

Paqtnkek Chief Paul Prosper, justice lead for the assembly, said the enrolment process is not just a way to get a hunting licence. He said it's an important step toward self-governance.

"It's a process that's designed by and for the Mi'kmaw people to help determine who would qualify to exercise traditional practices to lands and resources within Nova Scotia in accordance to treaty and Aboriginal rights," said Prosper.

"It's an act of self-governance or self-determination. It's a recognition that if we enact Mi'kmaw laws, we need to know who those laws apply to."

For years, the chiefs were concerned about people self-identifying as Mi'kmaw or using identification cards issued by the Native Council of Nova Scotia to exercise treaty hunting rights.

Paqtnkek Chief Paul Prosper says the Mi'kmaw are the ones who should determine who has access to natural resources, in accordance with Mi'kmaw culture and traditions. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

As a result, the provincial government agreed in 2017 that provincial enforcement officers would only recognize status cards from any of the 13 bands in Nova Scotia issued by the federal Indian Affairs Department.

That move came after concerns were raised about hunters self-identifying as Mi'kmaq or Metis.

Some people were also using cards issued to off-reserve or non-status Mi'kmaq by the Native Council of Nova Scotia.

"There was a need to determine who should be able to access those resources in accordance to Mi'kmaw culture and traditions," Prosper said.

"The determination of who is Mi'kmaw should rightfully rest within the domain of Mi'kmaw people, to make that determination in accordance to our own customs, values and traditions."

The new harvester identification cards allow Mi'kmaw who are non-status or on the Atlantic General List to exercise treaty hunting and fishing rights.

Family is central

Under the Wula Na Kinu (This Is Who We Are) process, an applicant must demonstrate an ancestral connection to at least one of the Mi'kmaq family names recognized in Nova Scotia, and they must be accepted by the Mi'kmaq Nation.

"It is the Mi'kmaw people that need to determine who is in fact a Mi'kmaw person and for the Mi'kmaw, a main feature with respect to who we are is the family unit," Prosper said.

However, the harvester identification cards have no bearing on band membership, he said. They are simply a way to determine who has access to treaty harvesting rights.

"While citizenship is an item that is under consideration for future development, this initiative sought to just determine who should have access to natural resources," Prosper said.

Province to enforce

The process was designed with extensive consultations among Mi'kmaw and various provincial government departments, he said.

Nova Scotia's Department of Lands and Forestry, which sets provincial hunting regulations, said it is in the process of updating its policies to accept the new harvester identification cards.

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Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.