On October 17, a fire completely destroyed a facility in Nova Scotia used by Indigenous Mi’kmaq fishers of the Sipekne’katik First Nation to store their catches. Earlier that week, on October 13, a few hundred non-Indigenous fishermen robbed two facilities that Mi’kmaq fishers were storing their catches in, one of them being the same one recently destroyed in the fire. The facilities were damaged and a van was vandalized and set ablaze. These attacks on Mi’kmaq fishers have been going on for weeks, with little support from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Mi’kmaq fishers are fishing for lobster outside of the dedicated season and non-Indigenous fishers have asked for all fishing to be stopped in order to protect the environment and their livelihoods. However, the Mi’kmaq fishers are completely within their legal rights, and are not threatening the environment.
The Peace and Friendship treaty signed in 1752, which is still valid today, confirms their right to hunt and fish for a “moderate living.” The Supreme Court of Canada had confirmed this again in the 1999 R. v. Marshall case decision allowing them to fish without a license. Non-Indigenous fishers have stated that the Mi’kmaq fishers “moderate living” will threaten the conservation of fish and lobster, but the scale of their fisheries is not a conservation concern. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) only allows lobster fishing in certain seasons to protect them from being overfished during their moulting season when they are more vulnerable. In September, Dalhousie University Marine Affairs Professor Megan Bailey told The Canadian Press that “The scale of the livelihood fishery as it exists right now with 350 traps is not a conservation concern. With 350 traps, if you multiply that by 10, I still don’t think it would be a problem.”
In late September, three Mi’kmaq parliamentarians, Sen. Dan Christmas, Sen. Brian Francis and Jaime Battiste, a liberal MP, asked Ottawa to create a co-managed Indigenous fishery as a long term solution for both sides. The three parliamentarians had signed a letter put forth by Battiste’s office that asked for “Atlantic First Nations Fisheries Authority” to help regulate the fishery. However Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association and one of the many who removed Mi’kmaq lobster traps and vandalized equipment asked for the DFO to step in as the regulator in accordance with the 1999 R. v. Marshall case, “The paramount regulatory objective is conservation, and the responsibility for it is placed squarely on the minister responsible and not on the Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal users of the resource.”
Fortunately for the Mi’kmaq fishers, they have gotten many supporters locally and nationally. Local restaurants are boycotting lobsters until they are able to buy from Mi’kmaq fishers. Petitions have been made and social media platforms have continued to post updates on the situation. Student-run university unions and groups have voiced their support of the rights of the Mi’kmaq fishers and urge the Canadian government to support them as well.
Nova Scotia RCMP have been criticized for how they have handled the situation. In a CBC News interview, RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce, “We were there to keep the peace and keep everyone involved as safe as possible in the situation… We live in a country that is so great people can criticize the police for their actions or what they see as their inactions.” However, in a CBC News Radio Interview, Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack spoke of their involvement differently: “The police have just been, all along, saying that they didn’t have enough bodies on hand to enforce the situation. So they’ve just been, kind of — I’m not sure, you have to talk to them [about] what their approach is. They’re just kind of standing around, in my view… I got nothing against the RCMP officers themselves. I’m just uncertain of the mandate or direction they receive. That’s where my concerns are.”
With the growing attention on crimes and discrimination against Indigenous people in Canada, the Canadian government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receive more criticism for how they handle these injustices. Trudeau has publicly condemned crimes against Indigenous groups within Canada in a press conference on Oct 16. He said that the federal government is actively trying to solve the situation and “… are expecting the RCMP and police services to do their jobs and keep people safe.”
While the RCMP continue to investigate the fire and the federal government comes up with a solution, the Mi’kmaq fishers will have to wait for justice and a stop to these crimes.
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