The chief of Lennox Island First Nation is calling on the federal government to ensure Mi'kmaq people on P.E.I. can exercise their treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood without fear of prosecution or threats of violence.
Chief Darlene Bernard addressed a standing committee on fisheries and oceans Monday.
"I know that none of us wants to see the type of violence and racism that has been seen in Nova Scotia recently," she said, referring to the confrontations that erupted between Indigenous and commercial fishermen last month.
In two decisions in 1999, known as Marshall I and Marshall II, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that Indigenous people have historic treaty rights to moderate livelihood fisheries, but what constitutes a moderate livelihood has never been defined.
Bernard said the Mi'kmaq communities on the Island are planning to launch their own moderate livelihood fishery in the spring.
She told the committee the government must uphold the treaty right, as well as the rule of law and "integrity" of the Crown.
"This committee must succeed where its predecessor of 21 years ago failed."
Bernard said there is a "heavy onus" on the Crown to justify any limitation of the treaty right. She the Mi'kmaq have survived for thousands of years by embracing a sustainable approach to harvesting resources, and are not looking to exploit the fisheries.
"Any overfishing of a particular species in this country that has raised alarms over conservation has only happened as a result of a post-colonial, non-Indigenous commercial fishery," she said.
"It is hard to adequately convey the level of disrespect felt and offence taken when we read about those, including current members of Parliament, trying to thwart our constitutionally protected rights by making irresponsible assertions under the pretence of unfounded conservation arguments."
In the P.E.I. Legislature on Tuesday, Green Party MLA Lynne Lund urged the provincial government to do its part and take a proactive stance to upholding Mi'kmaq treaty rights.
"Equally important is for government to be unequivocal in communicating that violence will not be tolerated," she said.
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