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September 17, 2009, marks the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) Marshall decision, which affirmed a treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood” arising out of Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and 1761. In the ten years since the decision, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has negotiated fishing agreements and undertaken a variety of initiatives to support the participation of the 34 affected Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations in the Maritimes and the Gaspé region of Quebec in commercial fisheries.
From 2000 to 2007, following the SCC decision, DFO invested almost $600 million in the Marshall Response Initiative (MRI) and reached agreements with 32 of the 34 eligible First Nations. This initiative, which ended March 31, 2007, provided significant support for increased commercial fisheries access (including vessels and gear, and commercial fisheries infrastructure) and internal governance development, and has become a significant driver for economic development in these communities.
As a result of the MRI, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations:
In addition to these direct benefits, hundreds of other jobs have been created as an indirect result of the increased access to the fishery, in areas ranging from boat repair and supply services to the management and operation of fishing enterprises to science and habitat management. Some First Nation communities have also made progress in developing other fishery-related business opportunities, such as recreational fishing facilities and eco-tourism initiatives.
Building management and governance skills through training and mentoring continues to be a priority through the Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (AICFI). This program, which invests $20 million over two years, includes:
The process of negotiating fisheries agreements and of working together on capacity building activities has led to better understanding and communication between First Nations and the Government of Canada. First Nations are participating more fully in DFO decision-making processes and sharing their views with industry and DFO about resource management issues.
The MRI and other programs such as AICFI, have delivered concrete benefits to First Nations and their community members and provided a foundation for greater economic self-reliance and an improved quality of life.
In addition, DFO continues to work towards longer-term fishing arrangements with Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations through the processes being led by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.