A letter from the Sipekne’katik First Nation addressed to Bernadette Jordan, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Premier Stephen McNeil and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is calling on all three parties to uphold the rule of law amidst ongoing violence, threats, human rights discrimination and what they say is an ongoing failure to uphold a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing the Mi’kmaq right to fish and trade.
“The Supreme Court of Canada, the treaties and the Royal Proclamation, Canadian laws recognize the right of the Mi’kmaq to fish and trade,” said Cheryl Maloney, consultation director for the Sipekne’katik First Nation.
Maloney says it’s their constitutional right to fish, but according to the band, their members have been harassed and discriminated against as they try to make a livelihood through fishing.
“We’ve been harassed for as long as I can remember,” said Brandon Maloney, the Sipekne’katik Fisheries manager.
“We’ve been harassed so much it almost seems like it’s the norm.”
Maloney says First Nations fishermen and fisherwomen often get refused service at bait shops and fueling stations, and have also had issues with their equipment being vandalized and damaged.
“We get damaged vehicles (at the wharf), we get damaged boats,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot happen to us over the years, and it’s become the norm.”
In their letter, the First Nation also raises concerns over protests aimed at hindering or denying access to fishing activities by non-native commercial fishing industry, and they are calling on each of the three parties to address their concerns.
Their specific rquests are as follows:
“1) The Premiere of Nova Scotia to address the ongoing systemic denial of services by NS businesses;
2) The RCMP to uphold the rule of law and protect the Mi’kmaq from illegal protest and criminal behavior of the some of the commercial fishing industry and its members by increasing RCMP presence on the wharfs and towns and to apply the full authority of the law against the illegal activities; and
3) the Minister of Fisheries, call a moratorium of their search and seizure practices in application to Mi’kmaq regulated fisheries and to fully apply the powers under the Fisheries Act s. 43 and Fishery General Regulations to apply to any commercial fisherman or license holders, who violate s. 22(7).”
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was not available for an interview, but a statement from the department says that it is imperative that they work together to maintain orderly and sustainable fisheries, to respect the rights of First Nation harvesters, and to ensure coastal communities continue to thrive.
“First Nation communities in Nova Scotia have a recognized right to harvest lobster for Food, Social, and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes outside of the regular commercial season. DFO supports this through issuing FSC licenses each year, and associated tags for FSC traps.”
But the Sipekne’katik First Nation takes issues with the FSC licences. They say the licences go against their treaties, and are a measure DFO implemented years ago through various Nation by Nation agreements, but the Sipekne’katik First Nation never signed on to any such agreement, maintaining that it is their constitutional right to fish for trade and food.
Maloney says they have been fighting for 20 years for their rights and they are calling on all three parties to respect and support their right to fish for food and trade.
“When they refuse services to our members that’s discrimination, and that’s illegal in Canadian and Nova Scotia law,” said Maloney.
Sipekene’katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack says they decided to submit the letter now as a way to help their people move forward. He says that their people face a lot of poverty and use fishing as a means to support themselves, but the ongoing harassment and vandalism of equipment is costly.
“We want the government to recognize our right, we want the DFO to stop harassing our people, and the RCMP to protect our people,” he said.
While the First Nation acknowledges that concerns have been raised from commercial fishing companies about overfishing, Sack says their members are fishing as a way to survive, and provide a better and healthy lifestyle for their families.
“I see it as people putting winter coats on their kids,” he said.
“People need to know that that resource and the conservation of it are our main priority. We’re there fishing underneath a right that we have and we’re not there to clean the waters out, we’re very conservative and take less than five percent of the lobsters out of the water.”
Global News reached out to the premier’s office for a response to the letter but did not receive a response by the time of publishing.