After multiple calls to meet with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, members of the Sipkene’katik First Nation will sit down with Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan next week.
Chief Michael Sack tells Global News the details of the meeting, to be held amid an ongoing dispute between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers, are still in the works, but he says it will be held virtually as Jordan is returning from Ottawa and will need to self-isolate for 14 days upon her arrival.
“The details, I think our teams are working that out right now. It hasn’t been finalized yet, but we’re looking to make sure the meetings are really constructive and straightforward and pushed along quickly,” Sack tells Global News.
“We’re looking for the federal government and Minister Jordan to acknowledge, uphold our treaty rights and respect that.”
Sack says the First Nation will also be asking that DFO officers protect Indigenous fishermen when they’re out on the waters, “making sure nobody is obstructing their right to do so.”
“We’re looking to get this moderate livelihood resolved with the band and get it off everybody’s table.”
Disputes began last week after the First Nation established a fishery operations post at the wharf in Saulnierville. Some non-Indigenous fishermen say they believe the Indigenous fishery is illegal because the regular fishing season is now closed, however the Sipekne’katik First Nation says its people have a treaty right to fish at any time.
Confrontations turned ugly, and on Friday, police arrested two people on assault charges in Weymouth, N.S., while some Indigenous fishermen said ropes securing some of their lobster traps had been cut.
Situation in Saulnierville calmed
Sack says the situation in Saulnierville has calmed dramatically since then, however a “pretty strong” RCMP presence remains in the area, which he says is welcomed.
“We’re looking for protection and safety, so it’s good with us,” he says.
“We have a few boats that have been in and out today fishing, there’s been some helicopters flying by, but there’s been no interactions. There’s been a few people driving by the wharf with the Acadian flag, but there hasn’t been any interaction or altercations or anything of that sort.”
There have been reports on social media that some people have been denied service in the area due to the ongoing disputes, but Sack says he hasn’t experienced that himself.
“I know a couple of guys had troubles getting fuel delivered, and I do know that commercial fishermen are pressuring anyone not to work with us, which is very unfortunate,” he says.
“Normally our people buy used fishing gear in the area, but now nobody will sell them fishing gear.”
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission confirms it has been contacted about the situation.
“The Commission has been contacted by a few members of the public with general concerns about the situation. So far, there have not been any complaints filed,” Jeff Overmars, manager of communications of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, says in an email.
“The Commission asks anyone who believes they have been discriminated against to contact us directly.”