Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack says the charges laid against those allegedly involved in lobster pound mob attack are good to see, but they’re just the beginning.
“It’s far from over,” Sack told Global News on Wednesday, the day after RCMP announced 23 new charges laid in relation to the incident in Middle West Pubnico.
The Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its moderate livelihood lobster fishery in September, exercising a treaty right that all Indigenous nations in Eastern Canada have, which is to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood.”
Since then, commercial fishers in Nova Scotia have insisted that the moderate livelihood fisheries are illegal and should not be operating outside of the regulated season.
Initially, the opposition was constrained to heated words and the vandalization or seizure of fishing lines but in October tensions ratcheted up.
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.
Later that night, the same thing occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S. The facility was being used by Sipekne’katik fishers at the time.
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 back in October.
He also said they smashed the windows of the van, and that he saw them kicking, punching and hitting it with objects.
“I thought they were going to kill me,” Marr said.
In a press release issued Tuesday, RCMP said 15 people have been charged with break and enter in relation to that incident in Middle West Pubnico, and eight people face charges of both break and enter and mischief.
Chief Sack believes the charges were soft.
“It’s very minimal I think, a break and enter charge,” he said on Wednesday.
“Our people were confined there for a while, so there could’ve been a stricter charge and there could’ve been more charges laid.”
The charges on Tuesday followed other charges that have been laid in connection with the opposition to the moderate livelihood fisheries. Previous charges included those of unsafe operation of a vessel, assault, arson and uttering threats.
Sack said he remembers the feeling of helplessness as he watched his friend Marr’s Facebook livestream from inside the lobster pound that night.
“That’s where we just expect the police to do their part. Who thinks they can be above the law and get away with stepping over the police, in a sense?” Sack said.
Sack said racism is still alive and well, and believes it was the root cause of the aggressive opposition to the fishery.
“People hate using the word racism, but else would you call it? You can’t pretend it’s not there,” he said.
“If you’ve never experienced it, you don’t realize what it’s like… We’ve experienced it our whole life growing up.”
Sack says he’s hoping nothing like that October incident happens ever again, as the community prepares for its next fishing season.
“Hopefully we’ll have more people in the water fishing, just keep growing our fishery, and have the commercial fishery respect that we’re not going anywhere,” Sack said.
“We respect what they’re doing, we didn’t interfere with their season so we expect the same.”
Sack said the band is planning on opening its own trap factory as early as next month.
“We had problems getting gear for our people, we couldn’t get traps and rope, bait, couldn’t sell our lobster,” he said, adding that local production would remove those barriers.
“It’ll also create employment within our people and we’ll able to hopefully sell lobster traps to communities,” Sack said.
Sack also said he hopes commercial fishermen who might struggle finding fishing gear in the future would also consider buying from the Sipekne’katik trap factory once it’s established.
“We’re not looking to divide our people with any other people. It’s just a matter of us establishing our fishing and our seasons,” he said.
Sack said the moderate livelihood fishery hopes to be back in water at the beginning of the summer.
Global News has reached out to the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association but has not received a timely response.
— With files from Alexander Quon.