The federal government has appointed a special representative to facilitate discussions between Indigenous and commercial lobster fishers in Nova Scotia.
In a statement released late Friday, the government said former Nova Scotia MLA and cabinet minister Allister Surette will “communicate with and rebuild trust” between both sides in the weeks-long dispute that has turned violent in recent days.
“I will be listening carefully to the concerns of the treaty nations whose rights were affirmed in the Marshall decisions, as well as stakeholders in the fisheries sector,” Surette said in the statement.
“I look forward to creating a forum for respectful dialogue so that, together, we can move forward.”
Surette will begin gathering the perspectives of the two sides immediately and continue those conversations “in the coming weeks and months,” according to the statement. He will also meet with stakeholders and Indigenous leaders in other parts of Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
He will then present recommendations to the government and the public “so parties can move forward toward a positive resolution.”
Surette was appointed by Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, who have both voiced Ottawa’s support for the Mi’kmaq fishers and the 1999 Marshal decision that their fishery is based on.
“Commercial and Indigenous harvesters have been fishing side-by-side for decades and we need that to continue,” Jordan said in the statement.
“A peaceful resolution is achievable, and (Surette’s appointment) will strengthen our fisheries and our communities,” she added.
The Supreme Court decision affirmed the rights of Indigenous peoples in Eastern Canada to hunt and fish for a “moderate livelihood” outside of the commercial season.
Commercial fishers have pointed to a later Supreme Court clarification that said Indigenous fisheries could be regulated under conservation. The non-Indigenous fishers say the local lobster stocks could be depleted by the Mi’kmaq before the season begins.
Non-Indigenous mobs have harassed and intimidated Indigenous fishers while vandalizing and destroying their equipment and facilities they use. The violence culminated in a fire that destroyed a lobster pound used by the Mi’kmaq.
The RCMP and federal government have been criticized for not doing more to intervene in the dispute.
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