Colonial violence against Indigenous people isn’t a matter of the past. You don’t have to look much further than the current situation in Nova Scotia where non-Native fishermen are threatening and destroying Mi’kmaw property to intimidate and prevent them from being able to catch and sell lobster — which is meant to be a protected treaty right.
Mi’kmaq Nations in Nova Scotia, Canada have moderate livelihood fishery treaty rights that were secured in 1760-61 and upheld in 1999 by the Canadian Supreme Court. These fishing rights are a protected part of their traditions and culture, but commercial non-First Nations fisheries don’t like it. Their reasoning, although disproved by experts and scientists, is that by having access to their fishing rights (to just make a living), Mi’kmaq Nations are a threat to lobster stocks and conservation in the area. This strikes me as a rather odd stance to take considering the number of lobster traps laid by Mi’kmaw fishermen is a tiny fraction of what the commercial fleets are capable of putting out. If conservation was at the forefront of their minds then you’d think that commercial fisheries would be working hard to reduce their own numbers — but they’re not.
Edited graphic & info: This is a comparison of potential trap capability not the numbers that are actually set at any one time. Initially, the Sipekne’katik had 7 licences that totalled a capability of 350 traps — this number increased to 11 licenses totalling 550 traps. In 2018, Fisheries & Oceans issued licenses to 979 commercial boats (each being able to hold between 375 to 400 traps). Graphic via ATPN News
Indigenous knowledge of fishing practices that maintain reciprocity between nature and humans is well established. It’s often studied and celebrated because their traditional cultural practices are based on sustainability and not commercialization. Another supposed justification to stop Mi’kmaw fisherfolk from trapping lobster all-year-round, per their treaty rights, and outside of commercial seasons during molting (when lobsters have soft shells and are mating) is that this will also damage lobster stock — a theory that has also been disproved by experts.
The Sipekne’katik, who belong to the wider Mi’kmaq nation known as Mi’kma’ki that stretches from the Canadian Maritimes to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, are not trying to take anything away from the commercial fisheries who have monopolized that space, they are seeking access to a livelihood that will feed and provide for their families. This small act of claiming what is legally theirs, that’s being met with anger, threats and violence — with the sole aim of actively trying to remove or block Indigenous People from exercising their rights — sadly, speaks to a long history of broken promises and racism in Canada (it’s not the problem-free nirvana it’s made out to be, especially if you’re First Nations). Two lobster pounds used by the Sipekne’katik were raided, destroyed and burned to the ground, lobster traps have been cut, the Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack was physically assaulted, flare guns have been fired at them, paint thinner poured over lobster crates, transport van tires slashed or deliberately popped by boards with nails on them and verbal threats have been made. White store owners are refusing to sell boat fuel and fishing supplies, blockades are being set up so the waters cannot be accessed and Native fishing boats that do get out on the water are being ambushed. This is terrorism designed to deny treaty rights specific to the people of the Mi’kmaq Nations. This is colonial violence.
What compounds this issue is that even though the 1999 Supreme Court decision affirmed that the Mi’kmaq Nations can fish all-year-round for a moderate livelihood, the language of this decision was very vague about how much fishing/lobster this actually entails. The people of these Nations have been asking and waiting since then for this to be clearly stated, but the federal Canadian government, with whom the Mi’kmaq were supposed to have been able to work out a long-term solution, have yet to do this. It’s been 21 years and the government is still not pulling its weight. As soon as the Sipekne’katik decided to enact their rights — not taking more than would be necessary to make a living — they were met with anger and brutality.
Any attack on Indigenous sovereignty should be an affront to us all, a lot of us, for example, are living on Indigenous land that settler-colonialism forcibly took from its original custodians. Any act that perpetuates the further removal of land rights from Native and First Nations People or creates violence against them must be unequivocally denounced and action taken to protect their rights and lifeways. If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be that even though we may not be impacted in the same way, or at all, by something that is going on around us, we have a duty to look after other people. Choosing to do nothing isn’t devoid of influence, it’s still a choice that has consequences, it just means you probably won’t feel them.
If you want to help the Mi’kmaq Nations, you can sign this petition, share this post, follow social media hashtags like AllEyesOnMikmaki and Mikmaq to amplify Indigenous voices or you can check out the information below.
To learn how to correctly pronounce Mi’kmaw, Mi’kmaq, Mi’kma’ki, Sipekne’katik, click here.
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Sipekne’katik Moderate Livelihood Fishery (Facebook) — follow for news & info about ways to support, supplies to donate
All Eyes On Mi’kma’ki (YouTube) — meet the people trying to make a living