Mi'kmaq power, inside and beyond Ottawa, stronger than in past fishery battles

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fairly difficult
As the launch of an Indigenous lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay in Nova Scotia meets fierce resistance, some say there are key differences compared to clashes two decades ago.
HALIFAX—When Jaime Battiste was in his early 20s, cable news channels were full of images of Mi'kmaq fishermen in New Brunswick battling federal fisheries officers over seized lobster traps.

Now, Canada's first Mi'kmaq MP is on the inside of federal power, trying to help as the launch of an Indigenous lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay in Nova Scotia meets fierce resistance.

"I wonder if they ever thought, 20 years ago, that they'd have two Mi'kmaq senators and a Mi'kmaq MP who could help influence and work with government to find a solution," the Liberal MP said in a recent interview from his Cape Breton riding.

His role is seen by some observers as one sign Mi'kmaq political influence is gradually growing, when compared to the clashes off Burnt Church, N.B., in Miramichi Bay, between 1999 and 2002.

Curtis Bartibogue, a Mi'kmaq lobster fisherman who was arrested by Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers during that earlier unrest, said public knowledge of treaty rights remains poor, but governments are more reluctant to bring in enforcement crackdowns.

"There's a big difference now between government and Indigenous relationships due to our ability to have our voices within government," he said in an interview Friday from his community, now known as Esgenoopetitj First Nation.

He recently was following closely as Sipekne'katik First Nation held a ceremony on Sept. 17 at Saulnierville wharf in southwestern Nova Scotia, issuing five lobster licences.

Like Esgenoopetitj, the Nova Scotia community cites the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision stating Donald Marshall Jr. had a treaty right to fish for eels when and where he wanted, without a licence.

Michael Tutton
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