Chief PJ Prosper



15 November 2016

Thank you Jim. Mr. Martin. It is an honour to be here. Distinguished guests, students. In preparing for this sort of brief discussion, I thought I would take you on a bit of a journey within my community, the community of Paq’tnkek. On a matter that is certainly near and dear to our community but generally the Mi'kmaw nation in general, and that relates to the Marshall fishing decision back in 1999, a Supreme Court of Canada decision. But going back - it is something Dr. MacMillan is quite familiar with. She just reminded me that the charges were laid in 1993. They were laid in a place just off from where we live. We have a piece of property called Walneg, otherwise called The Cove, where Donald Marshall Jr. was charged. And certainly fishing has been a near and dear activity for our community. As a result of that decision in 1999, the federal government came out with a short term and long term mandate to deal with the Marshall fishing decision. They gave a short term mandate to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to seek out access agreements with participating First Nations groups within the Atlantic region. And then they left the larger issue of rights recognition to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs or Indigenous Affairs as they are known today. Consequently, roughly all but two of the bands within the Atlantic signed fishing agreements. The ones that remained unsigned is my community of Paq’tnkek and Bear River First Nation. And the reason why our community refused to sign these agreements was because they failed to recognize the actual right that was affirmed and recognized by the highest court in this country, the Supreme Court of Canada. And so our community and Bear River waited and waited and waited for many years for the federal government to get that mandate. One can only think of the lost opportunity that our community has incurred by waiting to get a mandate from the federal government, recognizing a legal obligation that they have, as supported by the highest court in this country, the Supreme Court of Canada. Recognizing a treaty right which is recognized and affirmed by the constitution of Canada, the highest law within this country.

So my question is, what is the obligation of government to recognize the laws within its own country? To follow the pronouncements of the Supreme Court of Canada in actually recognizing the right of the Mi'kmaw people to hunt, fish and gather. I thought about this long and hard and I'm afraid to say that Donald Marshall Jr. has died before his decision was ever recognized by the federal government. And, to date, it is still not recognized. There still isn't a mandate, an appropriate mandate for Paq’tnkek to talk about the Marshall fishing right. And it goes on and on. It is somewhat of an approach of negotiation without recognition. And there is the need to have that fundamental recognition of aboriginal and treaty rights that exist within this country. And so I ask, what are the avenues that one can employ to force public officials, government officials, to recognize their own laws within this great country? So that's my question.

Thank you very much.


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