Nova Scotia

N.B. First Nation says fishery rights extend to U.S. members

A southern New Brunswick First Nation says members living in Maine share their treaty fishing rights — a position that could open Canadian waters to fishing by Indigenous people from the United States.

Peskotomuhkati Band, which straddles Canada-U.S. border, negotiating food fishery with Ottawa

The Peskotomuhkati First Nation in southern New Brunswick is currently negotiating a food fishery with the federal government. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

A southern New Brunswick First Nation says members of its band living in Maine share their treaty fishing rights — a position that could open Canadian waters to fishing by Indigenous people from the United States.

The Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) band straddles the Canada-United States border and members on the Canadian side are negotiating a food fishery with the federal government.

"The Peskotomuhkati say that all their people share their treaty rights," the First Nation said in a statement to CBC News.

The band cites a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision acquitting a United States citizen, Richard Desautel, of hunting in southern British Columbia without a licence because he was a member of the Washington State-based Lakes Tribe.

The court found his U.S. citizenship less important than the fact that he was hunting in the traditional territory of his people, which spans both countries.

"The recent Desautel decision in British Columbia supports the principle that the people of an Indigenous nation have Aboriginal rights to their entire traditional territory, regardless of which side of the boundary they live on," the statement said.

DFO taking no public position 

The statement was issued after CBC News reported that some Canadian commercial fishermen are concerned an influx of Indigenous fishermen from the much larger Peskotomuhkati community in Maine could affect their income.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans avoided addressing that issue.

"These new negotiations are seeking to develop an agreement with the Peskotomuhkati in New Brunswick," DFO spokesperson Carole Saindon said in a statement.

"The objective is to work on addressing their treaty rights when it comes to the harvest of fish, which can be the beginning of a new relationship between them and Canada." 

First Nation seeks to quell concerns

The Peskotomuhkati say they were participants in the same 18th-century treaties that were later found to guarantee fishery rights to the Mi'kmaq and other First Nations in the landmark Marshall decision.

They maintain that those fishery rights are not dependent on negotiations underway with Canada to recognize their status under the Indian Act.

Peskotomuhkati Chief Hugh Akagi repeatedly stressed the importance of conservation in any fishery and co-operation with local fishermen.

"Local fishers are our neighbours," Akagi said. "Long after the federal negotiators go back home, we have to live here together."

Chief Hugh Akagi has repeatedly stressed the importance of conservation in any fishery, as well as the issue of co-operation with local fishermen. (Submitted by Cynthia Howland)

Akagi said the right to harvest brings with it the responsibility to protect. 

The statement noted a deal with New Brunswick last year resulted in the taking and distributing of six moose to the community.

"The same community emphasis will apply to the food fishery," the statement said.

The Peskotomuhkati said a commercial fishery is a more complex issue and one that appears far from settled. They suggest that hiring Indigenous people as fishery officers and managers is one means of fulfilling the spirit of the treaties.

"A negotiated enforcement protocol would allow Canada and the Peskotomuhkati Council to resolve concerns and disputes about commercial fishing before they went to court."

Commercial fishermen in the area are being briefed Thursday by the Fundy North Fishermen's Association, which has been in ongoing discussions with the Peskotomuhkati about an Indigenous fishery.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.