Treaty Day celebrations mark 30th anniversary of Simon hunting court decision

The Veterans March to Grand Parade Square during Mi'kmaq Treaty Day Oct. 1, 2009/Photo by Stephen Brake

Mi’kmaq Treaty Day celebrations being held later this week will mark the 30th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Simon hunting case and the beginning of the annual gathering in Halifax.

On November 21, 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that James Matthew Simon from the Indian Brook First Nation had a treaty right hunt for food under the Treaty of 1752 signed between the Mi’kmaq and the British Crown.

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty, which guaranteed the Mi’kmaq’s right to hunt and fish, “continues to be in force and effect.”

Following that court ruling, then Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr., declared October 1st as Mi’kmaq Treaty Day in Halifax in accordance to article six of the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty. The article states, “that the said Indians promise once every year, upon the first of October, to come by themselves or their delegates and receive the said presents and renew their friendship and submissions.”

Mi’kmaq Treaty Day has been held in Halifax every year since October 1, 1986.

“I think the James Simon case is really important for being the first case that actually recognized Mi’kmaq had a valid treaty,” Jaime Battiste, Treaty Education Lead at Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey in Membertou, N.S.

“Up until Simon, it was the view of the Crown and the justice system that the treaties the Mi’kmaq had signed were not valid,” Battiste said.

Simon charged with possession of rifle, shotgun cartridges

On September 21, 1980, James Matthew Simon of Indian Brook First Nation was travelling along West Indian Road which runs adjacent to his home community when he was stopped by the RCMP. Officers charged Simon with possession of a rifle and shotgun cartridges in violation of the then Nova Scotia Lands and Forests Act for hunting for deer during a closed season.

During Simon’s trial, his lawyer, Bruce Wildsmith, argued that his client had a treaty right to hunt and therefore, did not need a permit to hunt nor follow a provincially regulated hunting season.

The 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty was signed by Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Jean Baptiste Cope and the British along the shoreline of the Shubenacadie River, not far from where Simon lived in Indian Brook.

Simon’s lawyer used articles within the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty to prove his client’s treaty right.

The lower courts in Nova Scotia ruled the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty was not valid and found Simon guilty of the charges. He appealed his case to the Supreme Court of Canada which overturned the lower court’s ruling five years after Simon was initially charged.

Battiste, who has a law degree from Dalhousie University, says the Simon decision is one of the first cases he studied at law school.

“With the Simon case and with the recognition that we had (with) these valid treaty rights, we were able to move forward and move the bar along that created the opportunity for Treaty Day,” Battiste said.

“It created the opportunity for our recognition in the constitution and other cases that further elaborated on Mi’kmaq treaty rights such as the Marshall (commercial fishing rights) decision.

Mi’kmaq Treaty Day celebrations get underway in Halifax on September 30 with the Mi’kmaq Cultural Showcase being held at the World Trade and Convention Centre at 7:30 p.m.

On October 1, celebrations will begin with a flag-raising ceremony at Government House at 8:30 a.m. A church service will be held at St. Mary’s Basilica at 9:30 a.m. followed by a veterans march to Grand Parade Square. The awards ceremony and feast will be held at the World Trade and Convention Centre starting at 11:45 a.m.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.