Madam Speaker, I am joining the House today from the Eskasoni community, the Mi'kmaq community, the largest Mi'kmaq first nation in the heart of Mi'kma'ki, on the unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq. I rise today as the lone Mi'kmaq MP in the House, the only MP of Mi'kmaq descent this House has ever known, but also as someone who is part of a large fishing community. I told constituents that I would always look for collaborative solutions to the challenges we face in Canada. I have spoken to many stakeholders over the past month: Mi'kmaq fishermen, Mi'kmaq leaders and fishing associations, and the RCMP. I believe in my heart that there is room for all of us, and that we, together, can move forward.
Before I address the solutions that I would like to put forward, I would like to share a little about how we have come to this escalation.
Mi'kmaq values are ingrained in our language. Netukulimk tells us that in the Mi'kmaq world view, we are connected to our environment, not above it. Chief Seattle, who is not a Mi'kmaq, said it best: “Man did not weave the web of life—he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
With this in mind, I want to give a little treaty history. In 1605, our grand chief of the Mi'kmaq grand council, Henri Membertou, on the shores of Port-Royal in the southwest Nova Scotia area, welcomed French newcomers, took them under his wing and showed them how to survive in the area. This created a great friendship between the Mi'kmaq and the French. It was so great that in 1755, when the Acadians were being expelled, the Mi'kmaq hid them. The Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Arthur LeBlanc, told me a beautiful story about how his family was saved by the Mi'kmaq.
The Covenant Chain of Treaties within the Mi'kma'ki, from 1725 to 1778, began a process whereby the British Crown began negotiating with the Mi'kmaq. Early treaties between the Mi'kmaq and the Crown were based on peace, friendship and trade. The common misconception is that the Mi'kmaq gave away resources or surrendered resources. The Mi'kmaq were a fighting force. I want to quote a part of Donald Marshall's case, from 1999. It said, “It should be pointed out that the Mi’kmaq were a considerable fighting force in the 18th century. Not only were their raiding parties effective on land, Mi’kmaq were accomplished sailors.”
Subsection 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, says:
(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
That, together with the section 52 supremacy clause, means that aboriginal and treaty rights are the supreme law of Canada once recognized.
In 1985, the 1752 treaty was recognized in the Simon case, where it is said, “The Treaty was an exchange to solemn promises between the Micmacs and the King's representative entered into to achieve and guarantee peace. It is an enforceable obligation between the Indians and the white man”. That is their language, not mine.
Then we have the Marshall decision in 1999. I have heard members of the opposition quote one section of the clarification, instead of looking at all of the Mi'kmaq case law combined, and all of the case law in Canada. It is true that the Mi'kmaq were granted a moderate livelihood, not once but twice, in 1999. Today, the Mi'kmaq are asking for a right that they have always had. It was not created in 1999. In 1999, the court said that the right had existed the whole time. Mi'kmaq are not looking for reparations or revenge, but rather reconciliation, and this shows our commitment to the country and our allies. I want to remind people that the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that moderate livelihood not once but twice.
l have also heard a conversation about regulation in the fisheries. I want to be very clear that the Mi'kmaq right is constitutional in nature. That means it is the supreme law of Canada. The only way to infringe a treaty right is through conservation or safety. The 2005 Mikisew Cree First Nation case stated that before going to conservation or safety, we have to show that the honour of the Crown has been met in a negotiation or in any infringement that takes place. Any infringement must be compensated, and that has never happened to this day.
Where are we today? What have we learned since 1999? Have we learned anything from the Burnt Church crisis? I remember watching the Burnt Church crisis as a young man, and I never thought that today we would have two Mi'kmaq senators appointed in the past five years, as well as a Mi'kmaq MP.
During this first escalation, which did not happen last week but in mid-September, I went to Saulnierville with the Grand Keptin of the Mi'kmaq Nation, Andrew Denny, the political spokesman of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council, which represents the seven districts of Mi'kma'ki. We talked to the Mi'kmaq fishermen, we talked to the RCMP and we talked to the community. What we saw was a perfect storm of frustration that has led us to where we are today.
We have seen 20 years of frustration through the non-implementation of the Marshall decision for sure, but we have also seen a really bad fishing season as a result of COVID, during which fishermen did not make what they usually make. Also, the Mi'kmaq who had traditionally gone down to the United States to be part of the blueberry harvest in Maine were not given the opportunity to make money there this year.
I reached out to the Mi'kmaq senators and said that I believe we have the ability, as Mi'kmaq, to talk and figure out how we can move forward to find solutions. In a thorough discussion with not only ministers of our government but also people within the fisheries association and Mi'kmaq fishermen, we heard loud and clear from the chiefs that this is not a dispute about money and jobs and it is not a right they want to sell. It is a right they want to pass down to generations. It is about culture; it is about knowledge. What we heard is that the rights are not for sale and extinguishment, at any price, is not acceptable.
Therefore, what is the way forward? The Mi'kmaq have created great success, national success in fact. They have the highest graduation rate of any nation out there, at 90%, despite having a deplorable rate of children in poverty. The reason is that they have the ability to control their own jurisdiction in education. When Mi'kmaq hold each other accountable and Mi'kmaq have jurisdiction, they succeed.
When we were looking at ways forward, the senators and I said that we needed to come up with principles moving forward. The first is sustainability for the future, or Netukulimk, which I talked about. We also need to look at implementation, not infringement or extinguishment of any right. We heard from the fisheries industry that there is fear out there, so we need to look at total transparency of the fisheries and work on a model that creates economic growth for Mi'kmaq and Maliseet in fisheries within the Atlantic. To me, it is hard to look those in my community in the eye when the rate of children in poverty is 75% in my community despite their having a right to earn a moderate livelihood.
We feel that these solutions are the best way forward, but I have heard questions in a lot of conversations so far: Why has this government not done more in five years? Why has this government not done it in 20 years? One of the biggest reasons is that people are not aware of the treaty rights. People are not aware of the treaty litigation that has been taking place. I was a treaty education lead for Nova Scotia before I ran for election. I remember something Nelson Mandela stated. He said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Creating awareness of treaties and indigenous history is key to moving forward. I believed this in my prior role in treaty education lead in Nova Scotia and I believe it today, but I also believe that the failures of one generation are the opportunities of the next.
I am really proud to be standing here tonight, for the first time hearing debates about the Mi'kmaq fisheries, to join members as a Mi'kmaq member of Parliament. I am proud and thankful that members are taking part in this debate. I wanted to not only give them a chance to share in the history, but also give them opportunities to talk solutions. I know we all, at times, curse in the darkness, but I want to be the MP who tries to light the candle.