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Co-chair of N.S. Assembly of Mi’kmaw Chiefs steps down amid moderate livelihood fishery dispute

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WATCH: Chief Terry Paul, co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs, has announced he is stepping down. As Graeme Benjamin reports, the announcement was made Wednesday afternoon in the days that followed negotiations breaking down between DFO and the assembly – Oct 28, 2020

The co-chair of the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaw Chiefs has stepped down from the organization amid a split over the implementation of the moderate livelihood fishery.

The decision, announced in a press release on Tuesday, comes after the organization had been discussing the definition of moderate livelihood with the federal government, although negotiations broke down last week.

The elder statesman of the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaw Chiefs, Terry Paul, has spent decades as co-chair and served 36 years as chief of the Membertou First Nation.

Read more: Sipekne’katik First Nation fishery secures buyer for its lobster

He could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

In a statement, Paul said his confidence in the organization has been weakening for some time.

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“While I understand, there are many employees who work every day for our communities, I have distrust in some of the issues at hand, primarily with the Fisheries files,” he said.

Paul will now work alongside Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation as well as other chiefs who are implementing a moderate livelihood fishery.

Moderate livelihood

Indigenous nations in Eastern Canada have a treaty right to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood,” a 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 has the authority to impose some regulations for the purposes of conservation, subject to nation-to-nation consultations.

Click to play video 'Lobster wholesaler in Digby County says company would purchase lobster from Indigenous fishers' Lobster wholesaler in Digby County says company would purchase lobster from Indigenous fishers
Lobster wholesaler in Digby County says company would purchase lobster from Indigenous fishers – Oct 23, 2020

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.

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A second, Indigenous-run moderate livelihood fishery was launched by the Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton in October, while Paul announced earlier this month that the Membertou First Nation was planning to launch its own moderate livelihood fishery.

Late last week, Paul accused the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of not recognizing the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision by seizing lobster traps from band members.

Violence against moderate livelihood fishery

All of this comes on the heels of a violent response to the Sipekne’katik First Nation launching its moderate livelihood fishery.

Traps laid by Mi’kmaw 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.

Read more: Ottawa appoints special mediator in N.S. Indigenous lobster fisheries dispute

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.

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Later that night, the same thing occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., a Mi’kmaw fisher told Global News.

Jason Marr said he and others were forced to take cover inside the lobster pound as the building’s windows were smashed out and his vehicle was damaged.

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Sipekene’katik First Nation says it’s taking major financial hit due to crisis in lobster industry – Oct 21, 2020

“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 said 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.

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“I thought they were going to kill me,” he 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 Oct. 17.

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.

Read more: N.S. Mi’kmaq won’t deplete lobster stock, says expert

On Wednesday, Paul did not respond to a request for comment but Sack did.

“I haven’t gone into details with him on that so I guess he’d have to shed some light on that one. But I respect his decision and he’s been around the table for a long time, so it must be something worth doing so, if that’s the case,” Sack said on Wednesday.

Click to play video 'Mi’kmaw chiefs demand DFO to stop seizing lobster traps' Mi’kmaw chiefs demand DFO to stop seizing lobster traps
Mi’kmaw chiefs demand DFO to stop seizing lobster traps – Oct 20, 2020

Membertou is the latest to join Sipekne’katik and Millbrook First Nations in stepping down from the assembly.

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The assembly released a statement Wednesday afternoon that it respects the autonomy of Mi’kmaw communities.

“We recognize that we are at a critical point in exercising and implementing our Treaty Rights, which can come with a range of thoughts and opinions.”

The Assembly said it remains committed to the protection of Treaties and is proud of the work it does for Mi’kmaq.

“Because we are stronger together, we will remain open to Membertou and Sipekne’katik coming back to the table, if and when they decide that is what is best for their communities.”

 

With files from Graeme Benjamin.