The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs is demanding that the federal fisheries department stop seizing lobster traps that are being used in moderate livelihood fisheries.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the assembly said that during a meeting on Monday with Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller, and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, the chiefs said that traps should not be seized by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
If traps have been seized, the assembly said they must be returned “immediately.”
“We are frustrated,” said Chief Terry Paul, the assembly’s co-chair and fisheries lead.
“We are trying to do what’s right and are developing plans where conservation and safety concerns are addressed so that our people can exercise their rights safely.”
The Mi’kmaq have a treaty right to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood,” a treaty right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Marshall decision.
Although the term “moderate livelihood” was not formally defined by the court, a subsequent decision ruled that the government did have the authority to impose some regulations for the purposes of conservation, subject to nation-to-nation consultations.
However, with no clear definition in the 21 years since the Marshall decision, the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its self-regulated moderate livelihood fishery in September.
A second, Indigenous-run moderate livelihood fishery was launched by the Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton in October.
In its statement on Tuesday, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs did not explicitly say if the traps were being seized at a specific moderate livelihood fishery.
But Chief Michael Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation said on Tuesday that he felt his people were unfairly following and targeting his fishers.
“This morning (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) officers are back at our people again. Canada needs to be held accountable,” said Sack in a Facebook post.
Sack and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) have been in contact, with Sack saying on Tuesday that he would be sharing good news with his community later this evening.
The chiefs called on the DFO to “justify” why their communities cannot create access to fisheries and said officials must come to the table to formally consult with the Mi’kmaq.
“We have developed very strong plans for moving forward and it is time that DFO comes to the table to talk about it,” Paul said.
Jordan was not made available for an on-camera interview on Tuesday but said during a press conference on Monday that she hopes to appoint a ministerial special representative very soon.
The representative would be someone neutral who would have the goal of facilitating conversations between First Nations and non-Indigenous commercial fishermen, essentially helping create constructive dialogue between the two sides.
The representative would also function separately from the nation to nation dialogues that are being called for by the Sipekne’katik First Nation and which would be between the Mi’kmaq and the Government of Canada.
Violent opposition to Mi’kmaq fishery
The creation of moderate livelihood fisheries in Nova Scotia has been met by open hostility and violence from mostly non-Indigenous commercial fishermen over the past two months.
Traps laid by Indigenous fishers have been repeatedly cut or damaged.
The incidents culminated on Oct. 13, with mobs of as many 200 people swarming two lobster pounds in southwestern Nova Scotia.
At a facility in New Edinburgh, N.S., the crowd removed and damaged video cameras then ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.
A van at the facility was set on fire.
RCMP have charged 31-year-old Michael Burton Nickerson from Yarmouth County with arson causing damage to property in relation to the incident.
Later that night, the same thing occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., an Indigenous fisher told Global News.
Mi’kmaw fisherman Jason Marr and others were forced to take cover inside the lobster pound as the building’s windows were smashed out and Marr’s vehicle was damaged, he said.
“They vandalized (my van) and they were peeing on it, pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires,” Marr told Global News by phone on Wednesday. He also claimed that they smashed the windows of the van, and said that he saw them kicking, punching and hitting it with objects.
Video taken that night and posted on Facebook shows a damaged vehicle at the scene.
Marr alleges the non-Indigenous fishers threatened to “burn” his group out of the building if they didn’t leave and allow them to seize the lobster catch.
“I thought they were going to kill me,” the Mi’kmaw fisherman said.
Eventually, the group was forced to leave. Marr claims the non-Indigenous fishermen destroyed his catch, which he estimated was probably worth $40,000.
The facility that Marr took cover in was destroyed by what police called a “suspicious” fire on Saturday.
A man was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries that are believed to be related to the fire. The man is considered a person of interest in the case.
A second person has also been charged in relation to the violence over the past week.
Chris Gerald Melanson of Digby County, N.S., has been charged with allegedly assaulting Sack on Oct. 14.
The incident, which was captured on video, shows a man grappling with Sack at a stand-off between commercial fishermen and supporters of the moderate livelihood fishery in New Edinburgh.
Sack welcomed the charges at a press conference on Oct. 19.