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Listuguj First Nation conflict over fishing and logging rights, Canada


Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation faced several police raids in the 90s over fishing rights. These conflicts led to the community mobilizing and to the successful assertion of Mi'gmaq governance over fisheries on the Restigouche River. 

The Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation is a Mi'gmaq First Nations band with a population of 3152 members, most of whom are of Mi'kmaq ancestry. The Listuguj reserve, part of Gespe'gewa'gi, is located on the north shore of the Restigouche River in Québec [5]. The Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government is one of three Mi’gmaq communities of Québec, all of which have a treaty right to hunt, fish, and gather for a “moderate livelihood,” as confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Marshall Decision [5]. The First Nation is a strong advocate of Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and Aboriginal and treaty rights. Its main resource is the Atlantic salmon as well as the harvesting of timber [1]. Salmon has been the main source of food for hundreds of years for the Mi'gmaq people [1]. The Mi’gmaq understand the balance of life very well. “We have been fishing salmon in the Restigouche River for hundreds of years. For us, the salmon has not only been a big part of our culture and identity but has also served as an essential source of food and income. We share a special relationship with the salmon and would never take more than we needed; we always left some for our grandchildren’s grandchildren” [6] 

In 1981, the Quebec Provincial Police conducted controversial raids on the reserve to stop the Mi'gmaq from asserting their control over their native fishery [1]. This was part of efforts of the Quebec government to impose new restrictions on Native salmon fishers [2]. “The Listuguj had fished the Restigouche River for thousands of years. Yet in the 1970s and 1980s, attempted bans on commercial fishing to protect declining salmon stocks resulted in high tensions between native and non-native fishers, with the Listuguj continuing to fish to sustain their way of life and their community” [3]. “The ministry of fisheries in Quebec was concerned that the Mi'gmaq people of Restigouche were over-fishing in the Restigouche River. The minister of fisheries Quebec, warned the Mi'gmaq people of Restigouche to stop fishing in the river in their traditional ways, and to comply with new regulations set forth by the provincial Gouvernment” [3]. In these new regulations Mi'gmaq were restricted in their fishing activities to three 24 hour periods per week (72 hours total) instead of their usual six 12 hours fishing periods as they were previously allowed. The Mi’gmaq people believe that they have “sacred duties of stewardship” over fish and other natural resources. “We fish because quite simply, it’s what we’ve done for millennia: we take what we need, no more, and govern our fishing to sustain our future generations.” [3] This conflict sparked a Listuguj Mi’gmaq “nation-rebuilding journey that would last more than a decade, culminating in 1993 when they established a framework – in the form of a Mi’gmaq law – for the effective exercise of their right not only to fish but to manage the resource on which they depend.” [3]. “The legislation has been successful. The Listuguj people fish the river sustainably, enforcing the law when it is violated by either native or non-native fishers. The salmon are plentiful and well-managed. The community has benefitted economically, with dozens of community members employed to manage the fishery resource.[3] 

Since its adoption, the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation Government Law on Fisheries and Fishing has been the effective law governing salmon fishing on the Restigouche River, displacing provincial and federal authority. [4] In 1993, The Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation Government took over the management of the salmon fishery. They did so not under a contract with provincial or federal authorities – the province of Quebec in fact opposed them. Nor did they do it by asking permission or receiving a request from some other government – they asked no permission and received no such requests. Nor did they do it by force.They did it by passing, implementing, and enforcing a law. [4]. 

In the late 90s there was another conflict, this time over logging in the territory. The Mi’gmaq people of Restigouche did not want compensation, but a fair share of the resources on their land and for their land to be managed responsibly. In August 1998, they blockaded the roads to the reserve, and refused to take any offer by the Government that did not respect the Mi’gmaq demands. On August 7th, the negotiation phase was over. Late August, the Government settled, and allotted them 15,000 square feet of the forest, ten more jobs, and $100,000. The Mi’gmaq people took down their barricade into the reserve. 


June 11, 1981: First raid by the Quebec Provincial Police (QPP) 

June 20, 1981: Second raid by the QPP. 

May, 1982: A trial was held in New Carlisle Quebec. 

1982: An agreement was made between the Mi’gmaq and the province of Quebec. Federal department of fisheries and oceans referred to the agreement as a “Co-Operative management of local fisheries”. 

1984: ‘Incident at Restigouche’ documentary by Alanis Obomsawin, chronicling the two raids was released. In it she interviews Lucien Lessard, a member of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, she confronts Lessard with the charge that a movement such as his that favours national self-determination for the Québécois was at the same time suppressing those rights for First Nations. In particular, she calls Lessard to task for a comment he made to the Listuguj chief, when he said "You cannot ask for sovereignty because to have sovereignty one must have one's own culture, language and land" [2]. 

May, 1993: The Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation Government took over the management of the salmon fishery [4]. 

1995: the Atlantic Salmon Federation recognized the First Nation for overseeing the “best-managed river” in Quebec [3]. 

1998: Large industries began taking advantage of the Restigouche forests, and began extreme logging activities on the land of the Mi'gmaq people of Restigouche. These logging was taking place with out reimbursing the Mi’gmaq, nor providing jobs to them. the Mi'gmaq people of Restigouche were being stolen from right in front of them. Logging road was blockaded. 

August 1998: Blockade set up on highway 134. 

November, 2018: Government of Canada and Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government conclude agreement on fishery. They sign the Listuguj First Nation-Canada Fish Framework Agreement [5].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Listuguj First Nation conflict over fishing and logging rights, Canada
State or province:Quebec
Location of conflict:Restigouche
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Logging and non timber extraction
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Biological resources

Project Details and Actors

Project details

This a case not about a specific project. It is about ongoing conflicts in fishing and logging rights and governance.

Project area:250,530
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3000
Start of the conflict:11/06/1981
End of the conflict:03/1993
Relevant government actors:Quebec Ministry of Fisheries
Quebec Government
Quebec Provincial Police
Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Malnutrition
Other Health impactsLoss of traditional food sources
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Institutional changes
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Violent targeting of activists
Project cancelled
Indigenous law over the river, Government of Canada and Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government conclude agreement on fishery. They sign the Listuguj First Nation-Canada Fish Framework Agreement
Proposal and development of alternatives:“What the story of the Listuguj First Nation shows is the power to fight back by taking responsibility…The answer was [to fight] not [with] guns or litigation or marching in the streets. Ultimately, the Listuguj Mi’gmaq fought back with the tools of governance: by making credible law – Mi’gmaq law – and then backing it up with competent management and enforcement” [3].
Stephen Cornell, faculty associate at the Native Nations Institute. “The Listuguj law on fisheries and fishing did more than just regulate a critical resource. It was a demonstration of the thoughtful, deliberate exercise of self-determination and self-government on the part of a First Nation. It’s a notable model, and the beneficiaries have included not only the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation but the salmon, the Restigouche River and Canada as a whole” [3].
"It is the story of a First Nation not only reclaiming inherent jurisdiction over the resource, but reclaiming governance – including law-making and enforcement – as an inherent, Indigenous right, tradition, and practice" [4].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Listuguj First Nation successfully defended rights to fish and manage fisheries according to their own laws and governance system. They influenced other First Nations in other parts of Canada to enact resistance through Indigenous legal systems.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Our Nationhood- a documentary, documenting the events of the forestry dispute in 1998, on the Restigouche reserve

Incident at Restigouche- a documentary, documenting the events of the fisheries raid of 1981 on the Restigouche reserve

[1] (Wikipedia, Listuguj Miꞌgmaq First Nation)

[2] (Wikipedia, Incident at Restigouche)

[3] (Center for First Nations Governance, 2011) Making First Nation Law: The Listuguj Mi’Gmaq Fishery

There are some events that come to define a community.

[4] (National Centre for First Nations Governance, 2010). Making First Nation Law:The Listuguj Mi’gmaq Fishery. Report.

[5] (Government of Canada, 2018) Government of Canada and Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government conclude agreement on fishery.

[6] (Wysote, 2011) A Blessing in Disguise. Our Story.

Meta information

Contributor:Leah Nyssen, Bishops University and Jen Gobby
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3478



First Raid

A photo taken during the first raid on the Restigouche reserve. A band member is dragged away by the Quebec Provincial Police


a photo of the Restigouche River

The Quebec Provincial Police marching into the Reserve