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Bear River

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About Bear River

The Bear River First Nation (BRFN) have their own vision for a food and livelihood fishery based on a long historical relationship to the natural world premised on respect and self-sufficiency to avoid hunger and sickness for all people.  This relationship is known in the Mi’kmaq language as “Netukulimk”.   Unfortunately, however, the commodification and privatization of the commercial fishery sector was and continues to be in full rampant speed, leaving no room for community sustainable practice and knowledge.  No where is this more evident than with the Individual Transfer Quota system (ITQs) being imposed on the scallop and most of the ground fisheries. Therefore supporting our former Chief Frank Meuse’s  initial analysis, it has become clear to the BRFN that these fishing agreements serve only to integrate First Nations into this commodification process, and thereby watering down “treaty rights’ and why the BRFN chose not to sign any fishing agreements.

Bear River First Nation

A Mi’kmaw Community’s Resilience

Until recently, the only mechanism to deal with ancestral land appropriation and displacement of Indigenous Peoples in Canada was the cumbersome Comprehensive Land Claims Process.    The Supreme Court of Canada decision known as the Marshall case, based on the Mi’kmaq treaties of 1760 & 61 extended those claims to the waters and related livelihoods, as well as initiated a treaty negotiation process for the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq.  In the interim, however, the Government of Canada quickly responded to the right to livelihood in the fisheries through “commercial” fishing agreements known as the MacKenzie agreements (James MacKenzie being the negotiator for the Federal Government of Canada).    

The Bear River First Nation (BRFN) have their own vision for a food and livelihood fishery based on a long historical relationship to the natural world premised on respect and self-sufficiency to avoid hunger and sickness for all people.  This relationship is known in the Mi’kmaq language as “Netukulimk”.   Unfortunately, however, the commodification and privatization of the commercial fishery sector was and continues to be in full rampant speed, leaving no room for community sustainable practice and knowledge.  No where is this more evident than with the Individual Transfer Quota system (ITQs) being imposed on the scallop and most of the ground fisheries. Therefore supporting our former Chief Frank Meuse’s  initial analysis, it has become clear to the BRFN that these fishing agreements serve only to integrate First Nations into this commodification process, and thereby watering down “treaty rights’ and why the BRFN chose not to sign any fishing agreements. 

While analyses of the Marshall decision of September 17, 1999 and the qualification of Marshal known as Marshall 2 , November 17, 1999 , has been well documented,  the emphasizes in the latter has been on “commercial” fishing rights as being subjected to current regulatory regimes.  What is often missed in Marshall 2, however, is also the emphasis on local community: 

The treaties were local and the reciprocal benefits were local.  In the absence of a fresh agreement with the Crown, the exercise of the treaty rights will be limited to the area traditionally used by the local community with which the “separate but similar” treaty was made (R. v. Marshall, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 533) 

BRFN’s ancestral lands are located in what was once one the most lucrative fishing areas in the world.  The contradiction here is BRFN’s vision for a small scale livelihood is prohibited by the current regulatory regimes and ITQ system which are displacing both, independent Indigenous and local non-Indigenous fishers from local waters to make way for distant license and quota holders and large scale fishing enterprises.    

The integration of First Nations into the commercial fishery is often noted as a success; however BRFN’s position is that this has resulted in undermining the recognition and implementation of their treaty rights.   BRFN continues to witness other industrial development encroaching on their ancestral lands and waters whether it is mining, windpower, or the privatization of beaches (Clam fishery) under the disguise of food safety and aquaculture.  Needless to say, most often these developments provide little benefit to the communities or local economy. It should be noted that treaty negotiations are on-going; and while there is a legal duty to consult First Nations on these types of activities that threaten “Aboriginal” Rights, consultation rarely translate to the local level and when it does, it is usually in very fragmented government or industry (market) driven processes that serve only to divide and conquer within communities and/or between communities.   The exception to this is what is known as the White Point Quarry case.  While there were some who supported the rock quarry, several groups including fishing organizations and the BRFN supported local communities opposed to the project.  Subsequently the highest level of Environmental Assessment panel in Canada recommended the quarry not be approved whereas the “core values” of communities would be adversely impacted.  However, this has not stopped other industrial development processes where citizens and their attachment to and dependency on place (or a sacred relationship) are disregarded or considered irrelevant in consultation processes, and thus, usually echo mere tokenism.      

Despite all of this, however, BRFN continues to pursue its inherent vision of a small scale food and livelihood fishery by aligning themselves with other local non-Indigenous fishermen who have also been impacted by privatization and commodification, and by continuing to learn and practice “netukulimk”.   It is important to note that to separate the fisheries from forest activities, hunting, and other traditional practices based on a whole way of life that has thrived for generations, becomes problematic for many Indigenous peoples. Therefore, it is not possible to conceive the late Donald Marshall Jr. who was charged for illegally fishing and selling eels resulting in the Marshall decision, as envisioning a whole host of treaty rights based on hunting, fishing and gathering being reduced to a full time commercial fishery.  

Though BRFN is prohibited from a sustainable livelihood, the community has undertaken several initiatives in support of netukulimk such as Fish Habitat and Stream Restoration; a food fishery whereby the fisher people provide fish for all of the community; and exploring traditional practices of netukulimk as community based governance models.  Further, the BRFN have found a voice through projects such as the “In the same boat” film project with Martha Steigman, a PhD. candidate and activist with Concordia University; A “Coastal Learning Communities Network” with Arthur Bull, Executive Director of the Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre and Dr. John Kearney, as well as becoming involved in the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP).  

It is not surprising that through this multi-scale approach from the local to international, the BRFN is learning that many Indigenous Peoples across Canada whether they are engaged with or implementing a settled a land claim (and treaties), are experiencing the corporatization of their indigenous rights at the expense of local food and livelihood, and perhaps more importantly, at the expense of the very resources integral to their survival.   This also holds true at the international level with all small scale and indigenous fishers (as well as those engaged with hunting, gathering, and agriculture).  

What is difficult for proponents of corporatism to grasp (or refuses to) about the practice of netukulimk and other similar indigenous concepts, embedded are fundamental principles of balanced human-ecological interrelationships.  Indigenous peoples around the world inherently know there are laws of the land and waters to guide human life -- not the other way around. Therefore, over exploitation of natural resources for profit for the few, will ultimately be the demise of human survival.   This fact is evidenced by world wide spread poverty and the on-going ecological and financial crises.   

Corporatism or globalization often disregard traditional practices and technologies in the fishery as being outdated as evidenced with Canada’s refusal to support small scale fisheries at the 28th Session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) March 2009 and instead, advocate “modernization” of the fisheries worldwide.  Canada further erodes its own credibility by refusing to endorse the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with the principle of “Free, prior and informed consent” being one of the contending factors.   Further, in a recent news article, the Prime Minister of Canada was quoted at the end of the G-20 summit in Pittsburg, USA noting that Canada has “no history of colonialism” ( David Ljunggren, Reuters:  September 26, 2009). 

It is difficult to imagine the survival of Indigenous peoples and coastal communities with Canada’s prohibition of a right to small scale livelihoods, Indigenous rights, and a denial of its colonial history.   However, small scale and indigenous traditional and customary practices for a livelihood fishery (and other natural resources) may indeed be necessary, if not the only way, to circumvent vulnerability to an insecure food system, hunger and poverty here in Canada and around the world.   

As long as the sun shines,

as long as the rivers flow

we will stand fast to what we agreed to.

I’m not sure if all parities understand,

How deep our treaties are.

(Former Chief Frank Meuse, Jr., In the same boat. 2007) 
 

Article by:  Sherry Pictou; Community Activist & Educator;

Co-Chair Coordinating Committee for WFFP. 
 

Resources 

http://www.canada.com/business/story.html?id=2037877

(Reuters Article, September 26, 2009) 
 

http://citizenshift.org/node/1053&term_tid=81268

http://inthesameboat.net/

(In the Same Boat. Film) 

www.ruralnovascotia.ca/documents/.../2003Scallop%20fishery.pdf