Recent book published: The Marshall Decision at 20

By: Ken Coates (RPLC Member)

The 1999 Supreme Court of Canada (SSC) decision on the case of Donald Marshall Jr. transformed the national understanding of Mi’kmaq and Maliseet treaty and Indigenous rights. By recognizing the continued authority of the 18th century “peace and friendship” treaties between the British government and Mi’kmaq and Maliseet, the Supreme Court required the federal government to respect First Nations treaty rights within the East Coast commercial fishery. Over the next two years, the federal government and the First Nations negotiated financial and related arrangements that took the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet from having a small and marginal role in the fishing industry to being significant actors within an expanding and vibrant sector of the Maritimes economy.

In the 20 years that followed the Marshall decision, Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities capitalized on the opportunities generated by the court ruling, quieting critics who believed that the empowerment of Indigenous peoples would disrupt a solid industry. It did not happen. The government provided substantial funding through the Marshall Response Initiative, a regional variation of the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy and, a few years later, the Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (AICFI).

The government’s action bought peace in the fishery by purchasing licences and equipment for distribution to the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet while also supporting training, business development, and the expansion of the Indigenous fishery. The subsequent transformation of the East Coast fishery proved more dramatic than expected. Communities secured licences, boats, and onshore facilities. Hundreds of Mi’kmaq and Maliseet individuals received training as boat captains and crew members. Read more>>

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