Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw leaders in Membertou to discuss fishing rights

Twenty years after the Marshall decision, the Mi'kmaq still haven't been able to attain their right to a livelihood fishery, according to Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nation.

'We still haven't been able to attain our right to a livelihood fishery,' says Chief Terry Paul

Membertou Chief Terry Paul attended a meeting this week to discuss and commemorate the Marshall decision. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

Mi'kmaw leaders from across Nova Scotia are meeting in Membertou, Cape Breton, this week to discuss and commemorate the Marshall decision.

"It's been 20 years and we still haven't been able to attain our right to a livelihood fishery," said Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nation.

A 1999 Supreme Court decision in the case of Donald Marshall Jr., an eel fisherman from Membertou, affirmed that Indigenous people on the East Coast had a right to hunt, gather and fish to earn "a moderate livelihood."

But the decision didn't clarify what that phrase meant.

Paul said the chiefs, councils, grand councils and fisheries managers meeting Tuesday and Wednesday will try to better define the issue.

"We hope to get to that point," he said. "We will be going to the communities because that's where the real answers are, but we want to make sure that leadership is on the same page."

Paul said they will, as a collective, determine a meaning for the phrase, although it may take "many months."

He has his own ideas what it means.

"Well, for one thing, for sure, to stop being poor," he said. "That's what our people are sick and tired of. They know they have a right to access to the fishery where they can make a half decent living, like any other middle-class family."

The Marshall decision is based on treaty rights signed in 1760 and 1761. 

While the Supreme Court ruling 20 years ago affirmed those rights, it did not solve disagreements about how much Mi'kmaq can fish.

About the Author

Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith has been reporting news in Cape Breton since 1981. You can follow her on Twitter @leblancsmith and reach her at yvonne.leblanc-smith@cbc.ca