Newly minted Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Kenny Smith is wasting no time making it clear where the Gwich’in Tribal Council stands on issues relating to their fellow residents of Turtle Island.
Noting there were similarities to the Gwich’in people’s struggle to preserve the Alaskan Arctic Refuge, the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd, Smith said he was particularly concerned about the reports of aggression happening at the Sipekne’katik fishing spots near Saulnierville, N.S.
Sipekne’katik First Nation is a Mi’kmaq band.
“What’s concerning is some of the attempts by the lobster fishing industry in the area to impair the ability of the Mi’kmaq to exercise these rights, so we felt it was important to release a statement and highlight the issue for our people,” he said. “There’s health and safety issues right now and it could quite easily devolve into a level of violence.”
Smith said it was important for Indigenous nations to support one another when they exercise their constitutionally protected rights.
In a press release published Sept. 24, Smith points out that “the Mi’kmaq people have been living and harvesting in what is currently eastern Canada for thousands of years. They have made many agreements with colonial settlers including the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1985. This treaty explicitly states that the Mi’kmaq ‘…shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting & Fishing as usual.’ In the Supreme Court of Canada case of Regina (the Queen) v. Marshall, 1999, the right of Mi’kmaq to harvest in the effort to earn a ‘moderate livelihood’ was upheld. This right is also protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
“As a treaty holder, the GTC understands the significance of such agreements and constitutionally protected rights for our people and ways of life.”
He called on the Nova Scotia fishing industry to come to the table with the Sipekne’katik First Nation and try to understand why the nation was proceeding the way it was.
Noting the amount of lobster the Mi’kmaq planned to harvest — a total of 250 traps — is far less than the average commercial fishing boat, Smith called on Ottawa to step in if it was serious about Truth and Reconciliation.
“The duty rests with the federal government and their oversight of Fisheries in Eastern Canada,” he said. “There also is a role to be played by Indigenous Affairs as well. But what’s concerning is the activities of the general public towards the Mi’kmaq at the current time.
“The push back that some individuals are facing right now, that’s totally in the face of the Canadian government’s efforts towards reconciliation. There’s a conflicting message and the government standing on the side and doing nothing about it does not support its statements towards reconciliation.”
Smith concluded by saying he was confident a peaceful solution could be found and hoped for greater understanding between Canada and First Nations.