Indigenous peoples defence of hereditary rights
The day after the federal elections, September 21, about 50 Mi’kmaq fishers and their supporters held a rally outside the Atlantic headquarters of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to affirm their hereditary and treaty fishing rights and serve notice to the government that they will continue to vigorously defend these rights.
This past August nine Mi’kmaq fishing boats had their lines cut. The DFO and police have been harassing and trying to intimidate the fishers. Not only was Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, one of the main spokespersons on this fight, arrested, media reports that a 14-year-old boy was handcuffed when DFO officers boarded a Mi’kmaw boat.
One of the speakers at the action was Matthew Cope, a fisher from the Millbrook First Nation who is facing charges for fishing out of season and selling the catch. He denounced the tactics of the Trudeau government and the DFO. “It’s insulting that I even have to stand in front of a judge … We’re being vilified and criminalized for doing something that our treaties allow us to do. We’ve been living up to our end of these treaties, but Canadian governments haven’t been living up to their end,” he said, adding “I can’t wait for my day in the Supreme Court of Canada, there’s going to be some fireworks. And I want compensation for every single day that my traps are out of the water.”
Melanie Peter-Paul, from Sipekne’katik First Nation noted: “A recently re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there’s no relationship more important to Canada than the relationship with the Indigenous peoples. Yet, the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia are once again fighting for our right to fish. Last Friday, September 17, it was 22 years since the Marshall decision, 22 years since the Supreme Court affirmed the Mi’kmaw treaty right to fish. Yet this government agency, the DFO, stifles any progress in reconciliation.” She added that the Friendship Treaty that the Crown signed with the Mi’kmaq in 1752 “states that we have a right not to be hindered from and have free liberty to hunt and fish as usual, and to sell the skins, feathers, fowl or fish or any other goods. This tells me that the current fish buyer’s licensing and enforcement regulations are in direct violation of the 1752 Treaty and the Constitution, section 35.”
Since they began their self-regulated livelihood fisheries in September 2020, Mi’kmaq fishers have had their gear seized by DFO officials, faced arrests and have had charges laid against them. Additionally, their efforts to negotiate peacefully on a nation-to-nation basis with Canada have been thwarted.
The former Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan was defeated in the September 20 federal election in her riding of South Shore-St. Margaret’s in part for her role in enforcing Canada’s colonial dictate over the Mi’kmaw Nation.
The Mi’kmaq fishers have served notice that they do not intend to back down from their just struggle for a moderate livelihood fishery to provide for themselves and their communities, which they carry out in a sustainable and responsible manner.
(With files from APTN and the Nova Scotia Advocate. Photos: Robert Devet, Nova Scotia Advocate)
Renewal Update No. 41, October 7, 2021