Netukulimk Past and Present: Míkmaw Ethics and the Atlantic Fishery

Barsh, R. (2002). Netukulimk Past and Present: Míkmaw Ethics and the Atlantic Fishery. Journal of Canadian Studies, 37(1), 15-42.

Míkmaq began to sell their furs to Europeans more than four centuries ago, while contending directly and often violently with Europeans for the control of Atlantic fishing grounds. Although Míkmaq were slowly displaced and reduced to destitution by settlers, they continued to hunt, fish and trap on a reduced scale and remained largely independent until the 1960s, when new federal licensing regimes for fishing contributed to a surge of Míkmaw nationalism. Since 1985, Canadian courts have repeatedly vindicated Míkmaw treaty hunting, fishing and trading rights, including offshore rights, culminating in a 1999 Canadian Supreme Court ruling affirming their right to secure a “moderate livelihood” by fishing commercially. Ottawa continues to try to regulate the Míkmaw fishery, however, and this resulted in sporadic violence during the 2000 and 2001 fishing seasons. Meanwhile, commercial groundfish and herring stocks in the region have collapsed, and salmon are threatened with extinction. This ecological and economic disaster has been the focus of a public relations war over responsible fishing between federal bureaucrats and Míkmaq. For the Míkmaq, netukulimk symbolizes their capacity to do a better job of conservation. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has responded by asserting its “scientific” superiority. This article reviews the evidence for responsible Míkmaw use of living resources through the early nineteenth century, when Míkmaq became demographically and economically marginalized, and the evidence for overfishing and mismanagement of Atlantic fisheries in the twentieth century. Although the conditions that made Míkmaq fishing self-regulating no longer exist, the federal management regime is even more of a threat to the survival of fish stocks and fishing communities.

ISSN: 00219495 (print), 19110251 (online)

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Added to Archives 2014
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