The following op-ed letter was submitted by the Atlantic Policy Council of First Nation Chiefs to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 17, 1999 Supreme Court Marshall decision.
Ten years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada made a landmark decision that would forever affect First Nation people – a right to fish for a living and harvest fish commercially.
The Marshall decision, as it is known, has affected the lives of our people and with it came a real sense of hope to our people and communities.
After 10 years, we’ve had a chance to reflect and to consider the impact that this decision has had on our people. The good news is that, on the whole, there has been measurable progress. The levels of First Nation-based expertise and capacity of our communities has grown exponentially to allow many to achieve equal or similar results and outcomes to non-native fishers across the region.
Since the decision, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs has invested in quantitative and qualitative benchmark research to measure progress. The full report is available at www.apcfnc.ca.
Today, there are almost 4 times as many fishing licences for First Nations. In 1999, there were 316 licenses. There are now 1,238. Most of the growth in licenses occurred between 1999 and 2004.
Over 1000 new jobs were created. These jobs, direct and indirect, are in harvesting (fishing and crew), processing and fisheries management. In addition to increased employment, we have built greater knowledge and capacity in our communities, through training.
We have seen over $30 million increase in fishery related revenues. In 1999, annual fishing related revenues totaled $4.4 million. In 2009, that number is $35 million. The represents wages from fishing related jobs, as well as revenues from commercial fishing business ventures.
Even though the last several years have been very challenging for Atlantic fisheries, with a significant drop in prices in certain key species, we are committed to growing this sector of our economy to make sure that it is economically sustainable; to lead to more opportunity for our people and especially our youth. Many have worked hard, and are committed to continuing this effort.
There is much more to be done, however and it is our duty now to contiunue our work.
It is a shame that the late Donald Marshall Junior, our Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy Treaty Hero, did not live to see the full implementation of the treaty, and to see the day when our fishery would be a rights-based fishery. (Marshall died in August from complications from a 2003 lung transplant.)
The full clear recognition of our treaty rights and the Supreme Court’s clear direction to Canada to provide access to our communities for a moderate livelihood has been helpful to most of our people, but not all our people and not all communities.
We are grateful for Donald’s need to search for truth and justice for all our people. Our values, language, culture and our survival approach has been essential for our communities to continue to strive today. In spite of a long list of negative social and economic indicators, which clearly show our people are the poorest and the most disadvantaged people in Canada and Atlantic Canada, we remain hopeful.
We also acknowledge the various non-native partners in the Atlantic Fishing industry who have been helpful in our development and progress, ensuring that our identity and values are understood and respected, and our voices are heard in most, if not all sectors of the fishery. We want to participate in a well run and sustainable fishery, support development of a co-management regime In this region, help our people and communities grow away from poverty and dependence, and be respectful to the environment.
This is our future, and Donald Marshall’s legacy.
John G. Paul
Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs