An Indigenous group set up in front of the provincial legislature in Halifax Friday to sell a catch of lobster amid tension over a treaty right to fish outside of the federally designated season.
More than 100 people lined up to purchase live lobster from Mi’kmaq activist Cheryl Maloney, who was joined by others from the Sipekne’katik band.
The sale and purchase of lobster caught without a federal commercial license is considered illegal under a provincial regulation.
But Indigenous fishers argue they have a treaty-protected right to catch and sell lobster to earn a moderate livelihood, as confirmed in a 1999 Supreme Court decision.
Maloney says the province’s regulations are inconsistent with the Supreme Court ruling and the Canadian Constitution, and she is calling on the province to repeal the law that prevents the sale of their catch without a license.
“I’m asking respectfully if the premier and his government will review that legislation and amend it,” said Maloney. “If they don’t want to review it and amend it I ask respectfully then they come and arrest me and stop me from selling so we can go to court and get it struck down.”
The sale outside Province House follows weeks of tension between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers over a livelihood fishery that opened in southwestern Nova Scotia last month.
Solomon Nagler was one of the first in line to buy lobster and says it was important for him to be there and support the Mi’kmaq fishers.
“I was absolutely horrified about what happened on the south shore,” said Nagler. “I think as a nation, as a national issue, we should actually be ashamed of what happened.”
That reaction to the violence and unrest between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers was shared by Rylan Higgins who says he supports the Mi’kmaq’s right to sell their own catch.
“We want to recognize their rights that are long-established and held up in courts. The decisions that are very clear and I don’t think there is any ambiguity here,” said Higgins. “We’re also here to serve as a counter to the racism and violence that marks Indigenous and settler relations here in Canada.”
The lobster sold in front of Province house was caught and purchased from Mi’kmaq fisherman Jason Marr, who was trapped and surrounded by an angry mob in a lobster pound overnight in Digby County on Tuesday night which was captured on social media.
Marr’s sister Jolene helped Maloney with the sale of lobster in Halifax and says the situation in Southwest Nova Scotia is terrifying.
“I can not believe Nova Scotia has put up with as long as they have,” said Marr. “I can’t believe the Premier hasn’t stepped in and I can’t believe Justin Trudeau hasn’t stepped in and the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) is nowhere to be seen.”
Maloney says she’ll continue to sell Mi’kmaq caught lobster and was thankful for the support.
“I have lots of respect for everyone that came out and exercised their treaty right to buy from the Mi’kmaw,” said Maloney. “We are all treaty people.”
In a statement, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Keith Colwell said before looking at provincial regulations, there needs to be an answer from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the question of what constitutes legal harvesting under a moderate livelihood fishery.
“That’s the first step because Nova Scotia’s regulations for fish buyers rely on the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ authority and responsibility to manage the fishery and identify what are legal, licensed fisheries,” said Colwell. “I encourage the federal government to continue dialogue with Indigenous leaders and representatives of the commercial industry, to find a solution to the current dispute.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.
— With files from Jesse Thomas, Global News