a close-up of a turquoise fishing net
News + Advocacy

Support Mi’kmaq Treaty Fishing Rights

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; intimidating and preventing 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; 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; disproved by experts and scientists, is that by having access to their fishing rights (to 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; the number of lobster traps laid by Mi’kmaw fishermen represents a tiny fraction of what 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.

Indigenous knowledge and fishing practices that maintain reciprocity between nature and humans is well established. It’s frequently studied and celebrated because their traditional cultural practices are based on sustainability and not commercialization. Justifications for stopping Mi’kmaw fisherfolk from trapping lobster all-year-round; as per their treaty rights, include incorrectly asserting that collection outside of commercial seasons (during molting when lobsters have soft shells and are mating) will damage lobster stock — a theory that has also been disproved by experts.

graphic showing a comparison between mi'kmaq fishing scale (350 traps) with commercial fisheries scale (390,000 traps)
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

The second largest Mi’kmaq band in Nova Scotia, the Sipekne’katik; whose territory stretches from the Canadian Maritimes to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec are seeking access to a livelihood that will feed and provide for their families. Sadly, this reclamation of what is legally theirs is being met with anger, threats, violence and blockades. Two lobster pounds used by the Sipekne’katik have been raided, destroyed and burned to the ground. Lobster traps have been cut; they’ve been shot at with flare guns; had their lobster crates doused in paint thinner; suffered verbal threats and had their transport van tires slashed or popped; even Sipekne’katik Chief, Mike Sack was physically assaulted.

This type of aggression highlights the lengthy history of racism and broken promises that Indigenous People in Canada have endured (it’s not the problem-free nirvana it’s made out to be). Continued colonial violence, such as this is designed to terrorize; its purpose is to keep denying First Nations their treaty rights.

some stacked lobster traps beside a body of water in nova scotia
photo via nscbramley/Pixabay

In 1999, the Canadian Supreme Court affirmed that Mi’kmaq Nations have the right to fish all-year-round for a “moderate” livelihood. However, the language of this decision was so vague it didn’t specify exactly how much fishing and lobster trapping was allowed. Waiting for over twenty years to work with the federal government to clarify this point; the Mi’kmaq Nation has repeatedly been ignored when seeking lasting solutions that benefit everyone. Instead, as soon as the Sipekne’katik exercised their right to caught enough lobster to make a living (no more than necessary); they were met with anger and brutality.

As many of us are living on stolen Indigenous land, we have to make a choice: do we oversee further theft land rights or do we help defend, celebrate and honour Indigenous sovereignty?

If you want to help: sign this petition; share this post; follow social media hashtags like #AllEyesOnMikmaki and #Mikmaq; amplify Indigenous voices and can check out the information below.

Have you heard about this issue? What steps can you take to help?

Further Info:

To learn how to correctly pronounce Mi’kmaw, Mi’kmaq, Mi’kma’ki, Sipekne’katik, click here.

All Eyes On Mi’kma’ki (YouTube) — meet the people trying to make a living

4 thoughts on “Support Mi’kmaq Treaty Fishing Rights”

  1. I didn’t realise this was happening currently in Nova Scotia. My mums side all live there so it’s a place I know well. My family are all Acadian on that side but my 9th great grandmother was Mi’kmaq I found out through researching our family history. I hope Trudeau will step in here.


    1. I hope he does more and that what constitutes a moderate livelihood (with the main input coming from the Mi’kmaq) is defined so that there’s no confussion over it. Treaty rights are the law so to do anything that stops a group from exercising their rights is just wrong. Thanks for reading!


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