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Listuguj Mi’gmaq sign fisheries agreement with feds after a year of tension

BY Ben Powless May 9, 2021

The Mi’gmaq community of Listuguj has reached a historic agreement with the federal government that will give it greater control over its own fisheries.

The Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government (LMG) agreed to the Rights Reconciliation Agreement on Fisheries March 24, and said it expected the Canadian government to approve and sign the deal in the following weeks. The agreement would see the LMG and Ottawa form a Co-Governance Fisheries Committee to jointly plan and manage the community’s fishery.

The LMG passed its own laws on salmon fishing in 1993, followed by the Listuguj Lobster Law in 2019, after two years of community consultation. The enactment of that lobster law sparked renewed discussions with Ottawa about creating a rights-based agreement on fisheries, where Mi’gmaq beliefs and laws would be centred. 

“This agreement will allow us to plan and implement our seasons with some certainty DFO will not unjustifiably infringe on Mi’gmaq fisheries governance and our fishing rights,” said Listuguj Natural Resources Director Fred Metallic.

“We will also gain increased access to fisheries resources whether for food, social, ceremonial or commercial purposes, funds for capacity building on fisheries governance, obtain fisheries access, which could include licenses and/or quota as well as vessels and gear.”

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan said in a statement that Ottawa recognizes that the Mi’gmaq have fished the Atlantic shores “for centuries” and have an inherent right to continue their way of life.

“With this agreement, Canada and Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation will work together to see that right manifest in a productive, sustainable fishery that will bring greater stability, opportunity and prosperity to the Listuguj people and the local communities,” said Jordan. “It demonstrates true partnership between our nations, achieved through the spirit of reconciliation.”

Listuguj Chief Darcy Gray described the agreement as an opportunity for a different relationship with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “There’s a guarded optimism that comes out of this that we can talk government-to-government to find a good way forward in collaboration with our fisheries.”

Gray said that it was important that the agreement recognized existing Mi’gmaq laws, given Ottawa’s previous reluctance. 

The agreement, he added, “changes the conversation around how we can manage fisheries as a community and nation. The agreement is structured in a way as just a beginning, not an end, and we can expand the lobster law or manage other fisheries or laws we decide as a community.” 

Gray hopes the agreement will alleviate tensions and violence that arose in 2020 from non-Indigenous fishermen, when angry crowds burned buildings and destroyed lobster traps used by Indigenous fishermen in the Mi’gmaq community of Sipekne’katik. 

He’s optimistic that the public will see that the Indigenous fishery is “well-managed, well-planned, and done in collaboration with conservation.” He added that the federal government also has a role in educating non-Indigenous fishermen about the nature of the rights-based fishery. 

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not respond to a request for comment.

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.