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What Idle No More Means for Small-Scale Fisheries in Atlantic Canada (Mi’kma’ki, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet Traditional Territory)

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Idle No More on the Canso Causway. [Photo: Jamie Y. Battiste.]
Idle No More on the Canso Causway. [Photo: Jamie Y. Battiste.]

By Sherry Pictou, Mi’kmaq activist, student, and co-chair of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples.

This piece was originally published by Small Scales

I am honoured by this invitation and challenge to shed some perspective on the Idle No More movement and what it might mean for small-scale fisheries issues in Atlantic Canada. First let me begin by offering thanks and support for the three young Mi’kmaq women, Marina Young, Shelley Young and Molly Peters for generating these opportunities for dialogue about Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) and Canadian issues. It is their hard work and leadership that continues to bring us all together here in Mi’kma’ki as part of the Idle No More movement, which is receiving worldwide attention. Therefore, let me say, that I cannot speak for the Idle No More movement directly, but as a Mi’kmaq Mother, Grandmother, and an activist for the past 15 years on fisheries issues, I can attempt to highlight the interconnections between fisheries and Idle No More.

A Mi’kmaq worldview known as Netukulimk, is an understanding and practice of taking only what you need to live. Netukulimk is rooted in a reciprocal interrelationship and responsibility with each other and with the land and water resources on which our survival depends.  Thus, it must be understood that while the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right to fish for a livelihood based on the 1760 and 61 Treaties in what is known as the Marshall Case in 1999, fish and fishing is only one aspect of Netukulimk. So, it has to be noted that it is difficult to focus on the resource only as a commodity without social responsibility for that resource which is neglected worldwide within the current global climate of capitalism.  It has been over 13 years now since Marshall, and still there has been no implementation of treaty rights with the exception of assimilating into the current fishing regulatory regime, which is now undergoing a modernization process. As we now know, this process will continue to displace the resource from both Indigenous and Canadian small-scale fishing communities as a livelihood and more importantly, as a food source into the hands of industrial corporatization.

This blatant disrespect for social responsibility is evident in the Bill C-45: Jobs and Growth Act, 2012 and is what Idle No More is responding to, as well as to generations of outright treaty violations. Under the guise of budget legislation, Bill C-45 amends the Fisheries Act, Canadian Environment Assessment Act (CEAA), Indian Act and Employment Insurance Act.  These changes will continue to have detrimental impacts for First Nations and all Canadians. For First Nations, their whole way of life is being targeted through a re-colonization process in that the Fisheries Act amendment re-defines ‘Aboriginal Fishing’ without recognizing the Constitutional protection and the Treaty Right in the Marshall Decision. The CEAA becomes more relaxed to speed up development on traditional territories without due legal consultation with First Nations. The Indian Act narrows the democratic responsibility process (Community and Band Council) in the designation of reserve land to just the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the Band Council. The Employment Insurance Act will indeed impact fisheries, all seasonal workers and all First Nations where unemployment is very high. And finally as the Atlantic Policy Congress of Chiefs rightly point out in a press release Dec. 14, the bill outright violates the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

So is there a connection between Idle No More and small-scale fishing issues in Atlantic Canada? Most definitely! Between the ‘modernization’ of the Fisheries Act and bill C-45, all small-scale fishing — any small-scale sector for that matter — and all Canadians should be concerned. These acts not only impact our resources and community rights to those resources, but also indicates less democratic responsibility for the environment, waterways and labour code protections for families, single parents, fishermen/women and all seasonal workers. This ongoing direct assault on the multiplicity of Indigenous and Canadian lives is why my community, the Bear River First Nation, and other fishing organizations are advocating for food and livelihood fisheries and human rights within the World Forum of Fisher Peoples at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization International Committee on Fisheries. Canada on the other hand continues to head right into the winds of over-exploitation which we now know only benefit a few and has nothing to do with human/Indigenous rights and human development let alone responsibility for the environment.

In conclusion, I have been disappointed at some of the cynicism over Idle No More because some do not understand what it’s about. When a whole way of life that has been assaulted for generations, it is difficult to pinpoint one aspect or demand. Further, the Treaties must encompass more than resource exploitation and mere token consultation. Indigenous people represent the fastest growing population in Canada, of which the median age is 27. Therefore, as a Mi’kmaq Grandmother and Mother, I am relieved that this younger generation will stand Idle No More.

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