Tensions have been rising for several weeks over disputes regarding fishing rights in Nova Scotia, resulting in violence this month. While many of us may be hearing about this issue for the first time, there's a long history behind it. We will try, here, to give a brief overview of the situation and a summary of where we are now.
In 1999, the Canadian Supreme Court granted the Mi'kmaq the right to harvest and sell fish outside of the federally defined fishing seasons in the case ruling of R. v. Marshall. This ruling, citing the right to earn a 'moderate livelihood', was made in an effort to support the 250-year-old Peace and Friendship Treaties.
As is their right, the Spiekne'katik First Nation opened its own fishery at a federal wharf this past September in St. Mary's Bay, Nova Scotia. This sparked anger in the non-Indigenous commercial fishing industry, members of which claim that the definition of a 'moderate livelihood' is too vague and risks harming the local environment and fish populations. However, the recently-opened fishery only has a scale of about 350 traps at the moment, which is not enough to threaten the local populations of fish and shellfish, and in stark contrast to the 35,000 commercial traps that are currently in the bay. In addition, Indigenous First Nations have lived sustainably on the land and managed natural resources for thousands of years before the commercial fishing industry began to significantly deplete fish and crustacean populations in the area.
By mid-September, non-Indigenous fishers in the area began to aggressively confront the Mi'kmaq and illegally remove Indigenous traps. Conflict continued through the month of October, often resulting in violence perpetrated against Indigenous fishers and fisheries, with little intervention from the RCMP or other Canadian government officials. Indigenous people and leaders have been physically attacked, traps and catches have been stolen, and personal property has been set aflame. This is not to mention the targeted destruction of wildlife and natural resources in the name of supposed conservation. Tensions came to a head on October 17 as non-Indigenous fishers set fire to a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, which held the Mi'kmaq fishers' catches.
Where are we now? The federal government is now promising to speak to First Nations leaders in the future about protecting their treaty rights, and vows to patrol land, air, and sea to protect First Nations fishers against any possible dangerous situations.
However, many are skeptical about the government's response and are awaiting tangible demonstrations of their intentions to keep these promises, especially given its historically lackluster follow-up (to put it lightly) and its seemingly endless crusade to separate the First Nations from their land and resources.
For more information, here are some links to the timeline of events, an overview of the dispute and current events, commentary from Mi'kmaq lawyer, activist, and politician Pam Palmater, and ways you can support Mi'kmaq fisheries!
Ways to help: