The Nova Scotia government is facing a class-action lawsuit in a dispute over Mi’kmaw treaty hunting and fishing rights.
Earlier this week, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs announced the creation of new harvester identification cards, after what it called wide consultations with members of the Mi’kmaq nation.
The chiefs say the new cards are in response to hunters self-identifying as Mi’kmaw or Métis, and to some hunters using cards issued by the Native Council of Nova Scotia.
The provincial government has agreed to accept the new cards, as well as status cards issued by Indigenous Services Canada.
However, in July, four members of the native council launched a class-action lawsuit in Nova Scotia Supreme Court seeking $40 million in damages on behalf of the council’s 3,500 members, consisting of status and non-status Mi’kmaq living off-reserve.
Council Chief Lorraine Augustine said her organization is not directly suing the province, but the plaintiffs are council members who are being denied treaty rights.
“The province has no jurisdiction on treaty rights, and, as a matter of fact, neither do the chiefs,” she said.
“And when they talk about consulting the Mi’kmaq nation? I’m a status Indian. I was never consulted. So who did they consult? It definitely wasn’t the off-reserve and it definitely wasn’t the non-status.”
The province has not yet responded to the court action. A spokesperson for the government declined to comment, saying the issue is before the courts.
Augustine said the plaintiffs used to hunt moose in the Cape Breton Highlands for their families.
Since the 2017 agreement between the province and the assembly of chiefs, they have been unable to do so, she said.
“Those four plaintiffs are taking this class-action suit against the province for losing their right to hunt for food,” Augustine said.
“They’ve taken the food off the table of these people.”
About 700 cards issued
Augustine said that until 2016 the council issued Aboriginal Treaty Rights Access cards to members who wished to hunt and fish according to treaty rights that date back to the 1700s.
The council only issued about 700 of the cards, she said.
Non-status council members still have to be able to prove Mi’kmaw ancestry dating back to the time of the treaties, which state that they cover the tribe, their heirs and the heirs of their heirs, forever, Augustine said.
Band councils are creations under the federal Indian Act, which Augustine said is a colonial instrument that did not exist when the treaties were signed.
“That’s something that has been imposed on the Aboriginal people,” she said.
“I don’t go by the Indian Act. I might have a status card, but it’s useless to me. I live off the reserve. I’ve always lived off the reserve.”
If the chiefs and the province are concerned about management of the moose population in the highlands, they should follow the hunting guidelines created in 1986 by the council and the Union of Nova Scotia Indians, Augustine said.
In 2016, provincial estimates put the moose population in Cape Breton Highlands at roughly 5,800, she said.
“In 2017, the province decided they were not going to recognize our cards, and then you look at the stats, in 2019, the moose is down to about 1,400,” said Augustine.
“So you tell me who has the management system. Where did all those moose go? It wasn’t us hunting.”.