In Short: Commercial fishers in Nova Scotia have been disrupting a new Indigenous self-regulated lobster fishery near Saulnierville. As tensions remain high, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs have extended a State of Emergency to at least September 29 citing political unrest.
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What do the treaties say?
Sipekne’katik First Nation launched the fishery on Thursday, citing their right as Mi’kmaq to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing. They cite the Treaties of Peace and Friendship signed between the Governor of Nova Scotia and local Indigenous leaders in 1760-1761, where both parties agreed to certain trade limitations from Mi’kmaq hunting and fishing activities.
The right to fish in the region and trade goods has not been granted to the Mi’kmaq by the government of Canada. As a sovereign First Nation, treaties that have been signed with Canada outline relations between Indigenous bands and government officials. This means that the government of Canada can put stipulations on fishing practices but cannot prevent them altogether.
In 1999 the Supreme Court affirmed this right in a ruling involving Donald Marshall Jr, a Mi’kmaw man charged with fishing and selling eels without a license and outside of the fishing season. This decision is well known for interpreting the right to earn a moderate livelihood.
Despite this ruling upholding the terms of agreement of the Treaties of Peace and Friendship, Indigenous fishers in the Atlantic region continue to face hurdles when dealing with government officials and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). In response to the ruling, the government of Canada signed deals with Indigenous bands in the Atlantic for commercial fishery. Negotiations over small-scale fishing are ongoing, and in the meantime Mi’kmaq fishers are having their gear seized by DFO officers.
Check out this petition to Take Action to Protect Mi’kmaq Rights to Fish
What is the history of this conflict?
Over the years, fishers have tried to push for concrete efforts to clarify the meaning of “moderate livelihood” and ensure protections for their right to fish. Their fight to uphold these rights has escalated in the past week, with commercial fishers resorting to threats of violence and property damage in an attempt to put a stop to the new self-regulated lobster fishery.
Efforts from commercial fishers began as protests claiming that the fishery was illegal since it was operating without commercial licenses and outside of the regular season. The situation eventually turned aggressive, with the group blocking access to the wharf and resorting to stealing the Indigenous fishers’ gear.
Following a meeting Tuesday between regional chiefs, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, and Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, the two federal officials released a statement affirming that the Mi’kmaq right to fish is constitutionally protected.
The Bottom Line: The existence of this right and its protection through the constitution is not the issue that these fishers are pushing for. The communities are demanding protection for their livelihoods and asking that their efforts not be obstructed by government officials and commercial fishers in the area.