N.S. assembly of chiefs co-chair steps down over fisheries dispute

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Membertou Chief Terry Paul has stepped down as co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs in a dispute with other First Nations over fisheries, saying his confidence in the organization has been waning for some time.

The assembly had been discussing the definition of a moderate livelihood fishery with the federal government, but those talks broke down last Friday.

On Wednesday, Paul said he could no longer work with the chiefs assembly because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was successfully practising a divide-and-conquer strategy.

"We're supposed to work as one unit and they have no issue about dividing us and talking to individual councils and people that are not even representatives of the community," Paul said.

"They talk directly to staff. We have a policy that the staff do not talk to DFO officials, because they'll use those discussions against us and this is the big reason why we were supposed to have a co-ordinated effort and an organized effort in how we speak to the government, and that has fallen on the wayside."

Paul has served as Membertou chief for 36 years and was re-elected last week for another four-year term.

Internal matters

The elder statesman of the assembly also said he was stepping away from his role with the Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusaqn, also known as the KMK or the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative.

In addition to being co-chair of the provincial assembly of chiefs, Paul was also its lead on fisheries issues.

He said there are a number of internal matters that the chiefs need to address that are unrelated to the fishery, but he did not want to discuss those publicly.

Paul said he hopes to work with the assembly again in the future, but for now, Membertou will press ahead with its own self-regulated fishery plan, which should be ready in a couple of weeks.

"Membertou has always ensured that we can get the best position that we can, but I ... think we would end up in a better position if we all work together," he said.

"I felt that I had to make a drastic move in order for people to listen."

Two Nova Scotia bands have been conducting moderate livelihood fisheries for the last month. Others, including Membertou, say they are working on plans to implement their own fisheries.

Self-regulated fisheries

Potlotek band members in Cape Breton have been quietly conducting a lobster fishery in St. Peters Bay, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confiscated more than 150 of their traps nearly two weeks ago. That action led Paul to end talks with DFO last week.

In St. Marys Bay, in southwest Nova Scotia, Sipekne'katik First Nation band members launched a self-regulated lobster fishery and have faced tense and sometimes violent confrontations by commercial harvesters.

Protesters say the fisheries are outside federally regulated seasons and will hurt lobster stocks.

The Mi'kmaq say they are tired of waiting because it's been 21 years since the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Donald Marshall Jr., which affirmed their right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing.

That 1999 decision led to confrontations and violence in New Brunswick in 2000 and 2001, but since then, no one has defined what constitutes a moderate livelihood or how it could work.