by Adam Gough, MMNN Contributer

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs (APCFNC) along with co-hosts – the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Aboriginal Aquaculture Association, the BC First Nations Fisheries Council, and the Native Brotherhood of BC came together to organize the National Aboriginal Fisheries Forum, which took place from March 29-31,  in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
The forum brought together representatives from business, government, and Aboriginal groups from across Canada.   The three-day forum, which aimed to “improve the future economic success of Aboriginal Peoples in the fisheries sector,” according to John G. Paul, Executive Director, APCFNC, was an overall success.

Chief Jesse Simon of Elsipogtog First Nation presents an overview of Atlantic Aboriginal Fisheries.

Following an opening prayer by Elder Albert Marshall, the forum began with comments from Chief Candice Paul of St. Mary’s First Nation, John G. Paul, and the Honourable Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia.
Chief Paul spoke of the optimism and enthusiasm shared by forum attendees and stressed working together to take advantage of available opportunities.  Mr. Paul stressed the need for further Aboriginal economic development saying “it’s not a bad thing to make money, to create jobs, and to be industry leaders.”  Premier Dexter stressed the rich Nova Scotia fishery tradition, including the long Aboriginal heritage of using only what was needed and leaving the rest for future generations.
The opening panel included David Millette, Director General of Aboriginal Programs and Governance, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Nicole Ladouceur, the Director General of Aboriginal Entrepreneurship, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC).
Mr. Millette presented an overview of the Canadian Fishing industry with a focus on the improvement in Aboriginal fisheries.  Notably, from 2006 to 2008, Aboriginal landings increased by 14% and landed valued increased by 43%.  For her part, Ms. Ladouceur talked about the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development and stressed that more businesses made for more success.
Other notable presentations from the first day of the forum included a session on Aquaculture in Canada by Chief Richard Harry of the Aboriginal Aquaculture Association.  Chief Harry highlighted the opportunities for aquaculture development across Canada and highlighted the sustainable nature of aquaculture.  He also highlighted the economic benefits including the creation of full-time employment, the involvement of youth, the development of skills, and the generation of wealth.
Chief Harry also presented some challenges to further aquaculture development including low awareness of opportunities, low current capacity, and difficult access to capital.  He stressed the need to respect First Nations autonomy and to ensure that they realized the benefits of aquaculture development in terms of economic and environmental sustainability.
The opening day also included a panel discussing the “business of fishing” composed of representatives from the Fisheries Council of Canada, the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, and the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.
Another presentation covered the opportunities in fisheries related tourism and stressed the wide-ranging opportunities available to First Nations, especially due to their ability to integrate cultural aspects into tourism activities.
In addition, Elder Albert Marshall joined with Dr. Cheryl Bartlett to give a presentation on “two-eyed seeing” and Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

National Aboriginal Fisheries Forum closing panel: (L-R) Jim Jones, Audrey Mays (AFN), John G. Paul (APC), Allan Clark (INAC), Russ Jones (FNFC), and Mark Duiven.

The second day of the forum began with a heavy focus on Aboriginal fisheries Development in the North and in Atlantic Canada.  Jerry Ward, Chief Executive Officer of the Baffin Fisheries Coalition, presented the situation in the North, lamenting the lack of proper port facilities in the North and highlighting the urgent need for development.
Chief Jesse Simon of Elsipogtog First Nation presented the overview of Atlantic Aboriginal Fisheries and highlighted the need to develop a modern, successful fishery by working together, sharing experiences, learning from mistakes, and building on successes.   He stressed the need for meaningful consultation and noted that a joint effort is only way to make a significant change.
Another focus was on aquaculture development with presentations from AquaDelights Seafoods Ltd. and a panel featuring Chief Richard Harry, Roderick Naknakim of We Wai Kai First Nation, and Wally Samuel of Ahousaht First Nation discussing Aboriginal Aquaculture projects in British Columbia.
Other presentations on the second day covered the topic of branding and product development, Aboriginal access to capital, Aboriginal Solidarity, and International Marketing.
The day was capped off with a banquet dinner that featured a talk by Dawn Madahbee, General Manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation and a performance by Eastern Eagle Singers, a Mi’kmaq drumming group that has been performing together since 1993.
The final day of the forum was highlighted by Mr. Paul’s keynote address.  His passionate speech touched on the results of the 1999 Marshall decision and noted the need for continued improvement and investment in Aboriginal fisheries.  The goal, Mr. Paul said, is to have Aboriginal Fisheries Enterprises 100% owned and operated by First Nations.
John Paul also stressed the need for further diversification in the fisheries and noted that First Nations fisheries staff now had the ability to talk and support each other given their shared experiences and knowledge.
Other panels on the final day included a presentation by Sandra Gaudet from the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island who laid out a way forward that included less reliance on wild fisheries and a higher focus on aquaculture and fisheries related business development.
Two presentations from Genome Atlantic and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) looked at research and innovation in the fisheries sector.  The ACOA presentation especially looked at funds available through the Business Development Program and the Atlantic Innovation Fund.
The final panel included representatives from the AFN, the APC, INAC, and the First Nations Fisheries Council and stressed the importance of holding forum where all of the “players” were in the same room.  Each panellist stressed the importance of coming together on a collaborative basis to address, on a national level, the challenges and opportunities in the Aboriginal Fisheries Sector.
Overall, the forum theme “Opportunities, Challenges, Solutions” proved to be an apt description of the situation facing Aboriginal Fisheries.  There are certainly plenty of challenges and opportunities for further Aboriginal economic development.  However, the forum provided a good basis for a joint approach to finding a solution and further advancing Aboriginal Economic Development.
Presentations from the conference are available from the APFNC website at

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