Minigoo Fisheries ~ History

The Minigoo Story began thousands of years ago before European settlement of North America. It began in the times when the ancestors of today’s Mi’kmaq people were able to fish freely and harvest shellfish in the shallow bays and harbours of Prince Edward Island. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada revisited and re-interpreted treaties signed in 1760 and 1761 by Mi’kmaq and Maliseet communities and ruled that Mi’kmaq should now only have the right to fish in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood.”

Since this time Aboriginal nations began entering the Atlantic lobster fishery alongside non-aboriginal boats, selling their catch to processing plants scattered across Prince Edward Island. During this time a number of licences were awarded to the Lennox Island First Nation. Boats owned by the band, as well as independently owned vessels, became participants in the fishery.

In early August 2009, Chief Bernard’s idea of setting up and operating a lobster processing plant on lands owned by the Lennox Island First Nation began to take shape. Chief Darlene Bernard was interested in the potential of a for-profit processing industry located on Lennox Island to provide employment for her people and earn money for additional economic development to benefit the community. Chief Bernard harboured a dream of creating greater economic self-sufficiency for her people as a way to break the cycle of depending on others. This cycle was holding them back.

The vision for Minigoo Fisheries was to make it a profit-generating enterprise. Therefore, the decision was made to seek financing from private sources and a business plan was prepared. Work began in early December 2009, to convert an existing building on Lennox Island into a world-class processing facility.

On April 21, hundreds of visitors from Lennox Island and surrounding communities celebrated the Official Opening of Minigoo Fisheries with ceremonies that included aboriginal drumming and singing and a cutting of a ribbon by Grand Chief Shawn Atleo of the National Assembly of First Nations. The visitors were treated to guided-tours and then sat down together in the facility’s lunchroom to feast on lobster sandwiches and other snacks.

When equipment trials began a week later, using a shipment of lobster from Newfoundland, many were shoulder to shoulder on the processing line. About 60 aboriginal and non-aboriginal workers were hired from the reserve and the surrounding communities. From the get-go, the community support for the new facility was rock solid. The attendance of the National Chief along with a half dozen Chiefs from across Canada highlighted the national significance of Minigoo Fisheries to Canada’s First Nations.

It also spoke to the importance of the recognition of First Nation treaty rights by federal and provincial government. At the time of Minigoo’s inception Chief Atleo said, “First Nations have the potential to build strong, resilient economies and improve our people’s quality of life by exercising their treaty rights. The treaty relationship has always been about respect, recognition, and moving forward.”

Chief Darlene Bernard regards Minigoo Fisheries as something much more than just another processing plant. As the brainchild behind the new facility, she sees the business as a symbol of greater economic self-sufficiency for her people. In a message made public by the PEI Fishermen’s Association, Interim President Mike McGeoghegan said, “Fishermen across PEI wish the enterprise well and look forward to it having a beneficial effect, not only for First Nations people, but also to the growth and viability of our industry as a whole.”

On May 1, 2010, Minigoo Fisheries processed its first lobster for the international marketplace. It’s been smooth sailing ever since. Although Minigoo Fisheries has had its share of challenges through implementation the team at Minigoo never gave up on the dream. Today Minigoo is a business that is reflective of the overall goals and aspirations of Lennox Island First Nation.