It has been 20 years since a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada that upheld Donald Marshall Jr.'s First Nations fishing rights.

But as Mi'kmaq leaders gathered Wednesday in Marshall's home community of Membertou, N.S., to mark the anniversary, they say the cause he fought for still hasn't been fully realized.

Membertou Chief Terry Paul can still remember the moment he and others heard the news.

"We just looked at each other in, first initially I guess, stunned silence, and then after that, most everybody cried tears of joy," said Chief Paul.

The decision on September 1999 was Marshall's second legal victory that made national headlines.

Years earlier, a ruling that he had been wrongfully convicted of a murder made him a household name.

The past two days, Mi'kmaq leaders from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick gathered in Membertou for a conference about what the fisheries decision meant then -- and now.

"(It) gave credibility to what we had been saying all along and what Junior Marshall went through," Chief Paul said. "All those months of harassment."

With this week's conference now over, Chief Paul says the next step in the work Donald Marshall Jr. started 20 years ago is only just beginning.

"It hasn't happened yet," Chief Paul said. "That's what the issue is. We need to get going. We need the government to start taking action in implementing the Supreme Court decision where we have a right to a livelihood."

Marshall had questions of his own shortly after the ruling was made.

"Who's supposed to run it? And who's our administration? Who's supposed to represent us?" he said at the time.

Chief Paul says he and other stakeholders plan to sit down with government and industry in the near future, but for now, Marshall is being remembered for what he managed to accomplish.

"He changed the law of the land and we're forever grateful for that," Chief Paul said.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald.