The chief of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia is calling for the Nova Scotia premier, the minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the RCMP to protect Mi’kmaw lobster harvesters from harassment while they practice their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from the fishery.
Chief Michael Sack has sent letters to Premier Stephen McNeil, DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan and Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer Lee Bergerman, calling for them “to uphold the rule of law amid ongoing violence, threats, human rights discrimination and ongoing failure to uphold the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Marshall, recognizing the Mi’kmaq right to fish and trade.”
“The biggest issue we have is our band members’ safety,” Chief Sack said on Monday.
“Our fisher people are facing harassment, vehicles have been damaged, boats have been damaged. Their fishing gear has been stolen, their lines have been cut. Boats have been burned,” he said.
In particular, Chief Sack said he is concerned about a planned protest by non-Indigenous lobster harvesters today to block Sipekne’katik harvesters from accessing their boats and gear at various wharves in the Digby area.
Sack said he heard the local non-Indigenous commercial fishermen plan to block Mi’kmaw harvesters by stacking old lobster traps on the wharf.
“I encourage all of our fisher people to stay away from the wharf (during the protest). We don’t need to get into those kind of altercations,” Sack said.
Mi’kmaw harvesters facing discrimination, harassment
In a letter dated Sept. 11, Chief Sack alleges Sipekne’katik harvesters are being discriminated against by businesses by denying them goods and services for basic needs such as fuel, bait and accommodations. He also alleges that RCMP officers are failing to uphold the peace while harvesters are subjected to destruction of their property, threats and harassment.
Chief Sack also accuses DFO of criminalizing lobster harvesters for practicing their treaty right to catch and sell fish for a living by subjecting them to search and seizure.
Chief Sack wants:
- Premier McNeil to address the ongoing systemic denial of services to Sipekne’katik members by Nova Scotia businesses;
- The RCMP to protect Sipekne’katik members from vandalism, threats and harassment by non-Indigenous commercial harvesters and;
- The DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan to place a moratorium on the practice of search and seizure of Mi’kmaw harvesters who are participating in a moderate livelihood fishery
In a written statement to Ku’ku’kwes News, the press secretary to Minister Jordan wrote that DFO recognizes Indigenous people’s right to harvest lobster for food, social and ceremonial purposes outside of the regular commercial season.
However, the minister’s statement makes no mention of the Mi’kmaw treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a moderate living which was upheld in the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in R. v. Marshall.
In regards to the planned protest at the wharf in Saulnierville, the press secretary wrote that “DFO is coordinating with local law enforcement to ensure fishing interactions in the area remain safe and respectful.”
A spokesman for Premier McNeil declined to comment on the letter and the RCMP did not respond to Ku’ku’kwes News’s request for a comment.
“We’re not asking for much.” – David McDonald
Sipekne’katik fisherman David McDonald said he is pleased that his community’s leadership is taking a stand against the harassment and threats he has endured while docking his boat at the Saulnierville Wharf.
“It’s a long time coming, that’s for sure,” David McDonald said on Monday.
“We’re not asking for much. All we want is a piece of our fisheries, our own fisheries,” he said.
David McDonald said he is concerned about the planned protest today.
“What we need is our warriors start coming down and sitting at the entrance and stopping these people from coming in and harass us,” he said.
Former Sipekne’katik chief and band councillor Alex McDonald said he isn’t too concerned about the planned protest. He also has a fishing boat at the Saulnierville Wharf.
“If they’re dropping traps out there to block us, we might as well pick them up and put them in the water because it sounds to me they’re giving them away,” Alex McDonald said.