You really have to wonder sometimes. My most recent source of confusion arises from the recent Marshall decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. Here’s this poor guy, Donald Marshall, Jr., getting his life back together after spending years upon years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, getting arrested for selling eel out of season. Marshall, a Mi’kmaq, was convicted in 1996 for catching and selling fish without a license. He won his appeal to the Supreme Court in that his rights were protected by a 1760 treaty. Lo and behold he wins as the Supreme Court Appeal confirms native treaty rights to offseason fishing. It also allowed Native fishermen to sell their catch and make a modest living from it.
Quickly Native fishermen mobilized and began going after the lucrative lobster trade. That trade, the lobster industry in the Maritimes, is worth a lot. Last year it brought $51 million into the hands of non-Native fishermen.
Now the anger is really understood. After years of having their rights denied the Mi’kmaq’s are now exercising them. This scares the non-Native fishermen and they cry about conservation and over-fishing the lobster. Fears of over-fishing are groundless. Mi’kmaq fishermen have an estimated 4,600 traps compared to the non-Native fishermen with 400,000. The Native fishermen have caught 84 metric tons of lobsters. Sounds like a lot until you compare it to the non-Native catch of 5,769 tons. This works out to 1.5 per cent of the commercial catch. If this is going to affect the lobster beds then the fishing industry is in worse shape than we’ve thought. Conservation should have been thought of a long time ago when Natives weren’t even part of the commercial fishing industry.
But the real problem was the apparent lack of preparedness on the part of the Federal Liberal Government.
You have to wonder at that. An important decision like this was coming up and the Department of Oceans and Fisheries weren’t aware of it? They didn’t plan for it? They didn’t have their lawyers looking at the case at all?
If this was so then the government was clearly incompetent in this case.
If it wasn’t then you have to wonder. Letting the rage gather strength worked well for the government. You had a group of people who used to be neighbors divided. Standard colonial practice that is recognizable to most First Nations but a first for the non-Native fishermen.
By letting the situation get out of hand the Department of Oceans and Fisheries could step in with a harder negotiating stance. One that would be approved by the non-Natives in the region. Never mind that the Mi’kmaq were completely legal in all senses of the word in upholding their rights to fish.
Marshall, who started the whole ball of wax rolling said, “it was the Department of Fisheries and the federal government. And they’re the ones. They wanted to see us at war. That’s the last thing we want to do. We want to clarify this in a fair way and a positive way.”
With the governments actions it is unlikely that anyone will consider whatever plan is introduced as fair and positive. As for the non-Native fishermen, if my hypothesis is true, let me be the first to welcome you to the dark side of Canadian colonialism.