Atlantic Chiefs Demand Action on Template Agreements

By Jim West

On behalf of the chiefs of the Atlantic region, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs are demanding a meeting with DFO minister Herb Dhaliwal to discuss their concerns over the newly proposed fisheries Template Agreements.

“If Minister Dhaliwal is serious about negotiating with us in good faith, then he should look at alternatives to his template agreements. That’s what negotiating in good faith is all about,” said APC co-chair Chief Lawrence Paul.

The template agreements are detailed agreements between DFO and the Atlantic Chiefs that will replace the one-year interim fishing agreements negotiated in the aftermath of the 1999 Marshall decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Atlantic Chiefs are united in the paramountcy of the treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy in any dealings with DFO in regards to the proposed agreements. The chiefs argue that the only way to protect their treaty rights, broadly defined as the right to make a moderate living, is to:

  • make agreements consist with our rights
  • make agreements that are fully “without prejudice”
  • fish without agreements, but with due regard to the legitimate concerns such as conservation, safety and non-aboriginal dependencies.

The chiefs are extremely concerned about the new agreements and the heavy-handed tactics with the Atlantic First nations by federal negotiator James Mackenzie. Mackenzie, who successfully negotiated 30 one-year agreements in the 2000 fishing season, is proposing that DFO virtually assume all control on how First nations are to exercise their constitutionally protected treaty rights. The Atlantic chiefs want Mackenzie to review their proposed template agreements before proceeding further in any discussions.

” It’s more a case where they are telling us how we’re going to exercise our rights with no consideration of our management plans,” said Chief Paul.

The Atlantic chiefs are concerned that the legal implications of the new agreements are not in the best interests of their people because DFO has stipulated in the new agreements that they are honouring federal obligations under the treaties and the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision.

On February 9, 2001, Minister Dhaliwal publicly stated that neither he nor federal negotiator James Mackenzie had the mandate to negotiate or define treaty rights. Yet in a letter from DFO of March 16, 2001, he stated that the agreements are ” providing increased access … in response to the Marshall decision.

” If the Department of Fisheries and Oceans doesn’t have the mandate to define these rights, why is Minister Dhaliwal stating that if we sign the agreements, we are agreeing that he is living up to his obligations under the treaties and the Marshall decision?” said APC co-chair Second Peter Barlow.

The APC has still not received a response from DFO regarding the proposed meeting between DFO and APC legal representatives to address their concerns with the new interim agreements, The Atlantic chiefs say they are under a great deal of pressure from their members to sign agreements.

A letter received from DFO minister Herb Dhaliwal on April 2, 2001, the minister stated that federal negotiator James Mackenzie will continue to negotiate James Mackenzie will continue to negotiate band by band with the new agreements without consideration for the collective concerns.

The Atlantic chiefs say that DFO has expressed a total unwillingness to change any of the wording in the agreements to protect their treaty rights. They characterize the approach of DFO and the federal negotiator as “economic and social blackmail” or “money and access in exchange for treaty rights.”

“It is our view that negotiations have reached a dead-end and now Mr. Mackenzie will attempt to approach each First Nation individually and use poverty and poor unemployment statistics as leverage to get agreements,” said Chief Paul.