A man who didnt seek fame

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The man often thought of as a reluctant hero for his people died Thursday.
People's views of Donald Marshall Jr. were divided during his lifetime, but as many are saying, his legacy will be a fight that saw a certain modicum of fairness returned to aboriginal people. The effects were far-reaching - the 'Marshall decision,' as the judgment came to be known, is a benchmark both for his fellow Mi'kmaq and natives elsewhere in Canada.
Marshall, 55, died in hospital in Sydney, after failing health following a double lung transplant six years ago.
He first came to national attention, of course, in the early 1980s when he was finally acquitted of a 1971 murder he didn't commit - and after having spent 11 years in penitentiary.
Following that, he was thrust into the spotlight again in 1996 over a conviction for catching and selling eels out of season, and without a licence. Ultimately, in 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada acquitted Marshall, upholding a centuries-old treaty between Mi'kmaq natives and the British Crown. It said natives have a right to a moderate livelihood from hunting, fishing and gathering.
There are, admittedly, those who feel the change made in fishing rules by his case spawned a double standard.
Ironically, a double standard was in play when Marshall was convicted of that 1971 murder. A subsequent Royal Commission into his case revealed a police and justice system that was blatantly racist and incompetent.
Suddenly, a different standard, relating to game harvest, when it benefited aboriginals, was criticized. It's funny how selective people can be when they view issues.
When Marshall represented his people in court over the right to fish, it forced a re-examination of colonial history. The treaty stood up to scrutiny. Treaties - negotiated perhaps with less than honest intent all those years ago to appease a people witnessing the loss of their lands and resources - those treaties did have legal bearing once someone stood up and fought for them.

Organizations: Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Canada, Sydney

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