STATEMENT REGARDING ATTACKS AGAINST MI’KMAW LOBSTER FISHERS IN NOVA SCOTIA

29 September 2020

From Facebook (Buffy Peters)

Christian Peacemaker Teams condemns the violation of treaty rights and recent attacks against the lobster fishers of Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia. Twenty years ago, Christian Peacemaker Teams stood on the shores of Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church), documenting the treaty and human rights violations carried out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and non-Indigenous boaters. Twenty years later, history repeats itself, as Mi'kmaw lobster fishers in Nova Scotia experience attacks and violence as they enact their treaty rights.

According to the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752, the Mi'kmaq “shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting and Fishing…” and “have free liberty to bring for Sale to Halifax or any other Settlement within this Province, skins, feathers, fowl, fish or any other thing they shall have to sell, where they shall have liberty to dispose thereof to the best advantage” (Art. 4).

The Supreme Court of Canada’s Marshall Decision in 1999 reinforced the Mi'kmaw people’s right to fish and delineated the right to earn a “moderate livelihood” from fishing, hunting and gathering. Formal negotiations between the DFO and the Mi'kmaq about the implementation of the Marshall decision have been stalled for years as lawyers wrangle over the definition of "moderate livelihood." The Sipekne’katik band and other Mi’kmaw communities have since developed their own management plans for a sustainable fishery.

On 17 September, the Sipekne’katik community began their lobster season with their own regulations to ensure the health of the ecosystem. When the Mi'kmaw lobster fishers took to the water, non-Indigenous lobster fishers confronted and threatened them. Video footage has surfaced of non-Indigenous lobster fishers shooting flares at the Mi'kmaw lobster fishers out on the water. Non-Indigenous lobster fishers have also cut and destroyed the traps of the Mi'kmaq. In addition, non-Indigenous people have gathered at the wharf to protest the Mi'kmaq right to begin their season, harassing and threatening the Mi'kmaq and their supporters. In response to this violence, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs declared a statement of emergency on 18 September 2020.

The non-Indigenous protesters and fishers are claiming that allowing the Mi'kmaq to fish is an issue of conservation. This paternalistic accusation disregards Mi'kmaq knowledge of the ecosystem and the research behind the community’s management plan, not to mention the simple fact that the DFO has found lobster stocks to be “very healthy.” The Indigenous fishery operates at a tiny fraction of the commercial fishery scale, making commercial fishers’ objections seem disingenuous. Instead, these accusations and assaults are rooted in a long history of colonial racism, violence, and entitlement.

CPT condemns the violence that the Mi'kmaw lobster fishers are facing as they enact their treaties and sustain their livelihoods.  While DFO and RCMP have not stopped the Mi'kmaq from fishing, they have also not stopped non-Indigenous fishers and protesters from harassing, threatening, and shooting flares at the Mi'kmaw lobster fishers, or from destroying their traps and ramming their boats. The DFO and RCMP inaction enables the violence against the Mi'kmaw lobster fishers, violating both the Treaty of 1752, the Marshall Decision of 1999, and their sovereignty over their territory.

As an organization committed to peace and human rights, we demand that the DFO and the RCMP prevent the attacks by non-Indigenous protesters and fishers against the Mi'kmaw lobster fishers. As long as these attacks occur, the DFO and RCMP are in violation of their treaty responsibilities, which should be of concern to the federal government. We demand:

  • The federal government to intervene and ensure that the Mi’kmaw lobster fishers can enact the rights recognized in the Treaty of 1752 and so sustain their livelihood. 
  • The Department of Fisheries and Oceans must publicly recognize the legitimacy of the Mi’kmaw Fishery operation. 
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police must stop and prevent the attacks on Mi’kmaw lobster fishers.