Idle No More & Our Small-scale Fisheries

Guest Contribution by Sherry Pictou, Mi’kmaq Activist, Student, and Co-Chair of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples.

Idle-no-more Canso Causeway Courtesy of Jamie Y. Battiste.

Idle No More Canso Causeway. Courtesy of Jamie Y. Battiste.

I am honoured by this invitation and challenge to shed some perspective on the Idle-No-More Movement and what it might mean for small-scale fisheries issues in Atlantic Canada (Mi’kma’ki, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet Traditional Territories).  First let me begin by offering thanks and support for the three young Mi’kmaq women, Marina Young, Shelley Young, and Molly Peters for generating these opportunities for dialogue about Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) and Canadian issues. It is their hard work and leadership that continues to bring us all together here in Mi’kma’ki as part of the Idle-No-More Movement, which is receiving worldwide attention.  Therefore, let me say, that I cannot speak for the Idle-No-More Movement directly, but as a Mi’kmaq Mother, Grandmother, and an activist for the past 15 years on fisheries issues, I can attempt to highlight the interconnections between fisheries and Idle-No-More.

A Mi’kmaq worldview known as Netukulimk, is an understanding and practice of taking only what you need to live. Netukulimk is rooted in a reciprocal interrelationship and responsibility with each other and with the land and water resources on which our survival depends.  Thus, it must be understood that while the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right to fish for a livelihood based on the 1760 and 61 Treaties in what is known as the Marshall Case in 1999, fish and fishing is only one aspect of Netukulimk.   So, it has to be noted that it is difficult to focus on the resource only as a commodity without social responsibility for that resource which is neglected worldwide within the current global climate of capitalism.  It has been over 13 years now since Marshall, and still there has been no implementation of treaty rights with the exception of assimilating into the current fishing regulatory regime, which is now undergoing a modernization process. As we now know, this process will continue to displace the resource from both Indigenous and Canadian small-scale fishing communities as a livelihood and more importantly, as a food source into the hands of industrial corporatization.

This blatant disrespect for social responsibility is evident in the BILL C 45: Jobs and Growth Act, 2012 and is what Idle-No-More is responding to, as well as to generations of outright treaty violations. Under the guise of budget legislation, BILL C 45 amends the Fisheries Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), Indian Act, and Employment Insurance Act.  These changes will continue to have detrimental impacts for First Nations and all Canadians.  For First Nations, their whole way of life is being targeted through a re-colonization process in that the Fisheries Act amendment re-defines ‘Aboriginal Fishing’ without recognizing the Constitutional protection and the Treaty Right in the Marshall Decision. The CEAA becomes more relaxed to speed up development on traditional territories without due legal consultation with First Nations. The Indian Act narrows the democratic responsibility process (Community and Band Council) in the designation of reserve land to just the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the Band Council. The Employment Insurance Act will indeed impact fisheries, all seasonal workers and all First Nations where unemployment is very high. And finally as the Atlantic Policy Congress of Chiefs rightly point out in a press release December 14, 2012, the Bill outright violates the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

So is there a connection between Idle-No-More and small-scale fishing issues in Atlantic Canada? Most definitely! Between the ‘modernization’ of the Fisheries Act and BILL C 45, all small-scale fishing- any small-scale sector for that matter- and all Canadians should be concerned.  These Acts not only impact our resources and community rights to those resources, but also indicates less democratic responsibility for the environment, waterways, and labor code protections for families, single parents, fishermen/women, and all seasonal workers. This ongoing direct assault on the multiplicity of Indigenous and Canadian lives is why my community, the Bear River First Nation and other fishing organizations are advocating for Food and Livelihood Fisheries and Human Rights within the World Forum of Fisher Peoples at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization International Committee on Fisheries.  Canada on the other hand continues to head right into the winds of over-exploitation which we now know only benefit a few and has nothing to do with human/indigenous rights and human development, let alone responsibility for the environment.

In conclusion, I have been disappointed at some of the cynicism over Idle-No-More because some do not understand what it’s about.  When a whole way of life has been assaulted for generations, it is difficult to pinpoint one aspect or demand. Further, the Treaties must encompass more than resource exploitation and mere token consultation.  Indigenous people represent the fastest growing population in Canada, of which the median age is 27.  Therefore, as a Mi’kmaq Grandmother and Mother, I am relieved that this younger generation will stand Idle-No-More.

Idle No More Banner. Created by George Paul.

Idle No More Banner. Created by George Paul.

(Note: I use Mi’kmaq, Indigenous, Aboriginal, Indian, and First Nations interchangeably. This is a result of over 500 years of colonization.)


3 thoughts on “Idle No More & Our Small-scale Fisheries

  1. as a wild fishery clammer, over the years we’ve faced: tidal power dam Destroyed 80% of clams in annapolis basin in 1980’s, aquaculture, NEW sewer treatment protocols, new E.I. laws, our clam industry is being destroyed by both fed & prov gov whose mandate is supposed to be to help and protect us, yet most action has done the opposite; why is our own gov trying to make like we don’t exist? its time the so called can gov be held accountable for its obligations, VERBAL as well as WRITTEN.

    • Hi Terry! Thanks for your comment. As a wild fishery clammer in Nova Scotia, you are definitely facing incredible challenges.

      There seems to be a lot of sense in small-scale fishermen like yourself allying with First Nations neighbours- this is an idea we talked about a bit in an earlier post, “Getting on the Wagon.”

      I was also struck by something Martin Lukacs said in the Guardian about Idle-No-More back in December: “Canadians are starting a different narrative: allying with First Nations that have strong legal rights, and a fierce attachment to their lands and waters, may, in fact, offer the surest chance of protecting the environment and climate. Get behind aboriginal communities that have vetoes over unwanted development, and everyone wins. First Nations aren’t about to push anyone off the land; they simply want to steward it responsibly.”

      Maybe you’d be interested in writing a post for our blog outlining some of what you and your fellow clammers are facing and some of the innovative actions being taken in the basin to fight to protect these livelihoods? (I’ll send an email about this idea- stay tuned.)

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