Statements by the Assembly of First Nations
The right to fish was not created by the Supreme Court decision, nor did that decision create the difficult and confrontational situation existing today on the east coast fishery. Rather, today's issue results from the continuing systemic discrimination faced by First Nations people in every region in Canada and the inaction of successive Canadian governments to negotiate equitable access to the natural resources reserved to First Nations in the historic treaties and by aboriginal title.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples identified a number of steps and policies required to properly implement the partnership of First Nations people and other Canadians with honour, dignity and for the benefit of all. The Canadian government, and its provincial counterparts, have been reluctant to move in a timely fashion on the implementation of its recommendations.
Instead, in too many cases, the Government or Canada has committed financial resources to engaging in adversarial activities with First Nations rather than on establishing processes, negotiating opportunities and mechanisms for dialogue with which to promote harmony and equity.
Because of that, First Nations have been required to take their claims and legitimate needs to the Canadian courts for resolution. The courts have felt compelled, as they must, to defend and articulate the inherent aboriginal and treaty rights, and aboriginal title, which are the very foundations of Canada.
The Marshall decision represents yet another example of an issue better resolved by early, timely and honest negotiation rather than adversarial positioning. First Nations stand ready, always, to discuss and negotiate in a reasonable fashion. They invite the other governments of Canada to do the same.
On September 29, 1999, the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy came together to sign a protocol agreement commiting to make conservation a first priority for the Aboriginal fishery. The policy foundation also specifies a commitment to education and peaceful co-existence with Canadians.