Hon. Brian Francis: Honourable senators, Treaty Day, which is held annually on October 1, is the start of Mi’kmaq History Month. It is a time to learn more about the history, culture and contributions of the Mi’kmaq. It is also a time to commemorate the significance of the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed in the 1700s.
These legally binding agreements act as the foundation for the ongoing relationship between the Mi’kmaq and the Crown. We are all treaty people and, therefore, responsible for upholding the range of rights, benefits and obligations that our ancestors committed to.
Colleagues, the Mi’kmaq never surrendered or ceded our lands, waters and resources when we entered into these treaties, but we agreed to share them with settlers and still continue to do so. In contrast, the Crown has not honoured its promise not to interfere in our traditional ways of life.
Instead, it has tried to forcibly displace and assimilate many generations. As a result, the relationship between the Crown and the Mi’kmaq over the centuries cannot be characterized by peace and friendship. Instead, it is one of exploitation and violence, but also of struggle and resistance.
To give you an example, in recent years various Mi’kmaq First Nations have launched their own rights-based fisheries without federal approval. Lennox Island First Nation, where I was born, did so last May. After an interim understanding was reached with the federal government, the first season was deemed successful; however, there was pushback on how many traps and where to place them.
Last month I was also impressed by how Elsipogtog and Esgenoopetitj are working to assert their constitutionally protected rights to fish. The failure of various governments to not fully implement this right has hindered socioeconomic development in the communities and left members vulnerable to further harassment and violence from state and other actors.
The withholding of federal funds tied to a 2019 agreement is also undermining the ability of Esgenoopetitj and Elsipogtog to fish as safely and sustainably as possible. It is shameful that Canada is reneging on the treaties and other agreements. The full implementation of the Mi’kmaq rights-based fisheries is long overdue.
Colleagues, I hope everyone in Mi’kma’ki and beyond will take time in October to learn about and take action to realize the many treaty promises that remain unfulfilled.
Wela’lin. Thank you.