The National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations is calling on the federal government to stop criminalizing treaty rights and end the harassment and intimidation of Mi’kmaw fishers on the waters.
“Intimidation and violence on the lands and on the water must stop,” AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald told a crowd at the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S. on Thursday.
“No more confiscation of lobster traps and gear. You are taking food from our children’s mouths. That has to end,” Chief Archibald said.
“Stop criminalizing our treaty rights. No more arrests. No more intimidation,” she added.
Chief Archibald was in Saulnierville, N.S on Thursday to meet with Mi’kmaw leaders and fishers from the Sipekne’katik First Nation and to show her support as Mi’kmaw fishers exercise their treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a moderate livelihood.
The National Chief later took to the waters twice on Thursday afternoon to witness Mi’kmaw fishers practice their treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood and to observe a confrontation between a group of fishers and DFO officers in St. Mary’s Bay.
AFN Chief posts online video of confrontation between fishers and DFO
During her first trip aboard the fishing vessel, Mama Ain’t Happy, Chief Archibald was joined by Mi’kmaw leaders from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island as fishers checked and unloaded their lobster traps.
Chief Archibald later posted a video on her official Facebook page of her second boat ride in St. Mary’s Bay. The video showed a confrontation between fishery officers on zodiac boats and Mi’kmaw fishers on a small fishing vessel.
The 26-minute video showed three DFO-owned zodiacs surrounding the fishing boat as a coast guard vessel pulled lobster traps from St. Mary’s Bay. In the video, fishery officers can be seen exchanging words with the Mi’kmaw fishers from Sipekne’katik First Nation.
At one point in the video, a fisherman starts ripping the lobster tags from the traps and throws them at the officers. In another part of the video, one of the DFO-owned zodiacs bumps into the fishing vessel.
“We were on a boat earlier today and there were no DFO that were around,” Chief Archibald said while shooting the video.
“But as you can see, that’s what happens when regular fisher people go out that this is what happens to them. They get surrounded and they get intimidated by the DFO and harassed,” she said on the video.
In a written statement, DFO spokeswoman Lauren Sankey confirmed that fishery officers seized ten traps in St. Mary’s Bay on Thursday. She said the traps weren’t tagged with authorized food, social and ceremonial tags.
Chief Archibald met with Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs
On Wednesday, Chief Archibald met with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs in Truro before travelling to the Pictou Landing First Nation where she met with Chief Andrea Paul and to observe Mi’kmaw fishers there drop lobster traps in waters not far from the community’s shoreline as part of the community’s moderate livelihood fishery.
The Sipekne’katik and Pictou Landing First Nations in Nova Scotia are currently conducting their own treaty-based fishery. Fishers from both communities have had their traps seized by DFO officers. Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack was arrested and questioned by DFO officers when his community launched its treaty-based fishery in August.
Potlotek First Nation launched its own treaty fishery in St. Peter’s Bay in June after reaching an interim arrangement with DFO to fish during the commercial fishing season in the area with a limited number of traps.
Earlier this year, DFO minister Bernadette Jordan issued a statement that the federal government will only recognize any moderate livelihood fishery taking place during a commercial season regulated by DFO.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the 1999 Marshall decision that Mi’kmaq, Wolastoq and Peskotomuhkati have a treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from catching and selling fish. That treaty right was guaranteed under the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-61 which was signed between the three Indigenous nations and the British Crown.
In a second ruling in Nov. 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a clarification stating that the federal government can regulate the treaty right. However, the ruling stated that the federal government has to justify any limit or infringement on the treaty right as well as consult with the affected Indigenous groups on any plans to infringe or limit the right.
NB and PEI leaders travel to NS to show support
Allan Polchies, Chief of the St. Mary’s First Nation in New Brunswick, was one of several First Nation leaders from New Brunswick to travel to Saulnierville to join the AFN National Chief to show his support for Mi’kmaw lobster fishers. Chief Polchies said Wolastoq fishers from his community are also facing similar harassment as they fish for lobster on the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy.
“Traps are being taken. Boats are being seized. (They’re) harassed every single day,” Chief Polchies said.
“I’ve had many conversations with DFO. I’ve even brought them into my council and it’s nothing but lip service from them,” the Wolastoq leader said.
Chief Polchies said talks between Wolastoq leaders in New Brunswick and DFO on defining a moderate livelihood have stalled.
“They don’t want to define a moderate livelihood,” Chief Polchies said. “If they did, we wouldn’t be standing here having a conversation,” he said.
Darlene Bernard, Chief of the Lennox Island First Nation in Prince Edward Island, also travelled to Saulnierville to join National Chief Archibald to show support. Chief Bernard said she is currently consulting with her community members before devising a treaty-based fishery management plan.
“Right now, (Lennox Island is) also building capacity with enforcement and monitoring and that kind of thing so that we build a treaty-protected fishery that we can stand behind and stand up to DFO and Canada.”