ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Indigenous people have fished the waters off Canada for thousands of years. Lately, there have been conflicts between commercial fishermen and First Nations people. Well, now there's a surprising twist to the story. A coalition of Native groups has bought into the biggest seafood company in Atlantic Canada, Clearwater Seafoods. Mi'sel Joe is chief of the Miawpukek First Nation, one of the leaders in this partnership. He told me this deal could offer a better future for his community.
MI'SEL JOE: You know, we're always - look at the seven generations for our people. Well, this is ensuring that their future is being looked after. And, you know, lord will - all of a sudden, we're now the owners of the biggest seafood company in the world, I would think.
SHAPIRO: There has been tension lately between Indigenous communities and white commercial fishermen in Canada. In the 1990s, the Supreme Court granted Native people the right to fish off-season to earn a moderate livelihood. And the disputes have come out of disagreements over what moderate livelihood means. Do you expect that this deal will start a new chapter for First Nation fishermen?
JOE: Well, they'll start a new chapter in a way that we're now - we're no longer sitting in the back of the bus. We're driving the damn bus. And it's an incredible turn of events for us.
SHAPIRO: This is obviously a massive commercial business, but you also grew up on the Atlantic coast of Canada. Can you tell me about your relationship to fishing and seafood in that area?
JOE: I was a commercial fisherman going back to the '70s and - but primarily people from this small community fished along the coast with some of the bigger fishing fleets that was out there. One time, you know, back - going back to the '60s and '70s, there was nothing in this community - very, very poor in terms of our housing. We had no water, no sewer, no electricity, no roads. But today, because we put together a good team of people - we actually put a padlock on the minister's door at one time back in 1983 because he wasn't dealing fair with us. They were taking our money and not giving us any money, so it became a real fight for justice for this community.
SHAPIRO: How are people in the community reacting to this deal?
JOE: I think that this is - I mean, we've had some open discussions about what it means. And most people realize that, you know, we ain't going to be - we're not going to be seeing dollars and cents coming in our bank account in the next month or next six months, maybe. But what we'll see is over time is revenue coming back that we can put into our war chest, if we want to call it that, so that we make sure that there is funding always for our people, our younger people and older people to make sure that we're not always dependent on the federal government to give us handouts.
SHAPIRO: For you personally as chief, how does it feel to know that you helped usher in this thing that will help sustain your people after you're gone?
JOE: I'm 72 years old, and I look at this as, what a way to take a retirement on.
SHAPIRO: What's your favorite thing to fish for in the area?
JOE: My favorite fish is codfish. I'd eat codfish 10 times a day if somebody would cook it for me.
SHAPIRO: Chief Mi'sel Joe, leader of the Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland, Canada, thank you for talking with us today.
JOE: Thanks for the call and the questions - much appreciated.
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