Statement from the six Wolastoqey Chiefs: Indigenous Fishing Rights

FREDERICTON (Sept. 21, 2020) – As the six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick, we are in solidarity with Sipekne’katik as they take a stand to protect their Treaty right to fish.

We too share in their concern over the safety of our fishers, and with the legal interpretations of the Canadian government when it comes to Indigenous fishing rights.

The legal precedent is clear. Multiple court decisions confirm that the Wolastoqey and Mi’gmaq have fishing rights under the Treaties of 1725
(ratified in 1726), 1749 and 1760. The courts have also held that, independent of the Treaties, the Wolastoqey and Mi’gmaq have inherent Aboriginal rights to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The Supreme Court of Canada in the 1996 Gladstone decision recognized that only necessary conservation measures can limit the right of First Nations to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The Supreme Court of
Canada in the 1999 Marshall decision recognized the right of the Mi’gmaq and Wolastoqiyik, as signatories to the Peace and Friendship Treaties,
to fish in order to earn a moderate livelihood. The Court’s jurisprudence also makes clear that these constitutional rights take priority over other, nonconstitutionally protected interests in fisheries.

Despite these clear legal rulings that were issued decades ago, our fishing rights have never been fully implemented by DFO. Our right to fish is clearly established, yet government authorities have thwarted that right at every turn and our use of it has been limited.

Like Sipekne’katik, since 2018, the six Wolastoqey communities in New Brunswick have been engaged in a government to government
negotiation process with DFO to attempt to resolve these longstanding issues, but with little progress. DFO has shown a general unwillingness to change its laws and policies to respect and implement our Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

All the while, our communities remain food insecure and among the poorest in Canada. Further, while our communities have experienced some limited growth with our commercial fisheries, our peoples’ share of the fishery remains minuscule compared to the non-Indigenous fishery. Non-Indigenous fishers prosper off the fishery, while our communities continue to be denied the opportunity to access commercially successful fisheries such as snow crab.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is committed to reconciliation and has acknowledged systemic racism exists within the Canadian government. We welcome these words. However, they ring hollow when we see federal government departments blatantly violating Aboriginal and Treaty rights and perpetuating systemic racism. In fact, DFO itself has a reconciliation strategy it is openly ignoring.

The failure playing out in Nova Scotia lies at the feet of DFO. Its failure to act with respect towards Indigenous people and its failure to respect
Aboriginal and Treaty rights has left First Nations with little option but to proceed with their own fisheries.

It joins a long history of broken agreements and unjust dealings between governments and the Indigenous nations to prevent us from exercising
our lawful rights.

We are in full support of our brothers and sisters of Sipekne’katik and demand action. We urge the Prime Minister to intervene and force DFO to fully recognize and implement Aboriginal and Treaty fishing rights.

Media Contact: Megan Fullarton, 506-476-4385, megan.fullarton@wolastoqey.ca