Hundreds of people gathered at the Halifax waterfront on Saturday morning to show solidarity with Mi’kmaq fishers who had been accused of illegally harvesting lobster by non-Indigenous commercial fishers.
Rally-goers called for government to uphold treaty rights.
“If it was legal for Donald Marshall to sell eels, then it’s legal for Mi’kmaq to sell lobster” one sign in the rally read.
The 1999 Marshall decision is the case at the centre of Nova Scotia’s lobster fishing dispute.
The Supreme Court of Canada in 1999 affirmed a treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a moderate living, something that comes out of the Peace and Friendship treaties of 1760 and 1760.
However, 21 years after the decision was made, and hundreds of years after the Peace and Friendship treaties were established, Mi’kmaq fishers say they are continuing to face roadblocks and barriers in exercising their right to fish in pursuit of a moderate living.
While the Marshall decision upheld the treaty rights, “moderate living” was never defined.
On Sept. 17, the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched it’s own independent fishery, saying they’ve waited on the government to take action for too long.
“We have an issue with the levels of government not holding up our rights,” First Nation’s Chief Michael Sack told Global News after the fishery was launched.
The move caused tension with non-Indigenous fisherman in southwestern Nova Scotia. Indigenous fishers said the lines to their traps have been cut, that they’ve been threatened and harassed and even faced physical violence.
The rally in Halifax — also known as Kjipuktuk in the Mi’kmaq language — called for government action to dissolve the dispute in favour of the Mi’kmaq fishers.
“We’ve been working a long time at asserting our rights in Mi’kma’ki,” said Dorene Bernard, a Mi’kmaw Grandmother. “I’m very humbled by all the people who are here, I’m overwhelmed really.”
The feeling was echoed by Mi’kmaw water protector Michelle Paul.
“It’s very emotional to be here and see all these beautiful people supporting us,” she told Global News at the rally.
“For the young people to bear witness to what’s happening in this time, it’s monumental. This is historical times that we’re living and witnessing.”
Paul was one of several speakers at the rally who spoke about treaty rights and what they mean.
“Being in relationship with each other, sharing, giving, being a good neighbour, that’s what the treaties represent to me,” she said in the speech.
Paul said moderate livelihood ensures Indigenous communities can be sustainable.
“It makes me think of that saying, give someone a fish they’ll eat for a day, teach some one to fish and then what? They’ll eat for a lifetime,” she said.
“For me, it’s a matter of surviving. You eat that fish for one day, or thriving, eating for a lifetime. And I think that’s what moderate livelihood is about: the ability to thrive.”
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.