The Chief of the Sipekne’katik First Nation says lobster harvesters from his community were the target of vandals who cut their trap lines in St. Mary’s Bay over the weekend.
Chief Michael Sack, who accused non-Indigenous lobster harvesters of cutting the lines, said the move was “disheartening” following what he described as a “positive meeting” with Bernadette Jordan, the federal minister for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Saturday evening.
“The Minister was very concerned about the vandalism and acts of aggression that have taken place and expressed her support in taking all measures necessary to protect our people as we continue to exercise our constitutional right to fish for a moderate livelihood,” Chief Sack stated in a news release issued on Sunday.
Sack has issued a public plea for people to donate traps “to replenish the gear that has been vandalized.”
In the news release, Sack confirmed that he and Minister Jordan have agreed to continue talks. Both sides have asked their senior staff to begin discussions regarding Sipekne’katik’s management plan for a moderate livelihood fishery.
The meeting with Minister Jordan follows the First Nation’s decision on Saturday to move approximately a dozen community lobster harvesters from a wharf in Weymouth to one located 23 kilometres south in nearby Saulnierville for safety reasons.
“We’re very concerned. Safety is our main concern here,” Chief Sack said to reporters on Saturday.
“We’re calling on the Fisheries Minister to have DFO protect our people and make sure everybody’s safe,” he added.
Sipekne’katik launched its own rights-based lobster fishery on Sept. 17
On Thursday, the Sipekne’katik Chief and Council issued its own licences and tags to seven community lobster harvesters as part of the First Nation’s launch of its own moderate livelihood fishery.
The treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a moderate livelihood was upheld in the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Donald Marshall, Jr. fishing rights case. The high court agreed with Marshall’s argument that he had a treaty right under the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-61 to catch and sell fish without a license.
However, the Supreme Court of Canada also ruled that DFO can regulate the treaty right for conservation or other important public objectives.
On Friday, there were several confrontations between Mi’kmaw and non-Indigenous lobster harvesters on the wharf in Weymouth which were caught on video and shared on the Facebook website.
RCMP confirmed that two individuals were arrested at the scene for assault and later released from custody. According to police, no one suffered significant injuries from the altercations. Charges have not been laid and the incidents remain under investigation.
On Saturday afternoon, several supporters of the non-Indigenous harvesters gathered behind a guardrail that segregated the parking lot and the various warehouses at the Saulnierville Wharf. There were several tense moments between them and Mi’kmaw supporters in which both sides shouted at each other for a short period of time.
Several RCMP officers remained near the Saulnierville Wharf entrance throughout the weekend while supporters for the Mi’kmaw harvesters were allowed to drive through a gated entrance to the wharf.
In a written statement to Ku’ku’kwes News, the RCMP stated they have been in discussions with Chief Sack, the community and DFO regarding the tense situation between Mi’kmaw and non-Indigenous harvesters. The RCMP state they have deployed their division liaison team “and continues to be engaged impartially with all community partners.”
The release also states the RCMP will remain in Saulnierville “to ensure public and police safety and keep the peace” and take action “should there be criminal activities.”
“I have to be here for my people” – Donna Augustine
More than 300 supporters of the Sipekne’katik lobster harvesters gathered at the Saulnierville Wharf over the weekend. Many of them travelled from other parts of the Maritimes to drop off donations and cheer on the harvesters as they docked their boats at the wharf on Saturday.
Donna Augustine, 68, said she prayed for guidance before driving from her home community of Elsipogtog First Nation, N.B. to support her three nephews who are among the Sipekne’katik lobster harvesters in Saulnierville.
“I knew that there was an injustice done here. I knew that they were being bullied,” Augustine explained on Saturday.
“I have to be there. I have to be there, not only for my nephews, I have to be there for my people,” she said.
Augustine was among several women with hand drums who sang the Mi’kmaw honour song as Mi’kmaw fishing boats began arriving from the wharf in Weymouth.
“When I saw the boats coming into the harbour, I said, ‘Yes, they’re safe. Yes, they’re here,’” she said.
Amanda Paul, a Mi’kmaw lobster harvester with the Sipekne’katik First Nation, was on the boat, French Lily, as it made its way from Weymouth to Saulnierville. She said she got emotional when she saw supporters lined up on the rocks at the wharf, cheering them on as the docked their boat.
“(I was) so proud to be who I am,” Paul said Saturday afternoon. “Very proud knowing that we have all the support here on the wharf.”
Paul said a fleet of boats belonging to non-Indigenous lobster harvesters remained off in the distance as they approached the Saulnierville Wharf in what she described as a failed attempt to intimidate harvesters like her.
“We’re a tough crew. It’s hard to break us,” Paul said.