The chief of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia was arrested and questioned by federal fishery officers Monday just as community fishers began its annual treaty lobster fishery in Saulnierville, N.S.
Chief Mike Sack said he was pulled over by officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans just as he was leaving the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S. early Monday afternoon.
“Two or three DFO officers pulled up and said I was under arrest for like, I don’t know, promoting an illegal fishery,” Chief Sack said outside of the DFO office in Meteghan, N.S.
“They took me here, to the Meteghan (office), read me my rights and interviewed me and that was it. I guess I wasn’t charged. I didn’t get any paperwork or anything or any appearance in court,” Chief Sack said.
“I was just told I had to get interviewed and I was free to go,” he added.
Sipekne’katik launched annual treaty fishery in St. Mary’s Bay
Chief Sack was in Saulnierville on Monday to meet with Mi’kmaw fishers from his community and issue treaty lobster fishing licenses under the First Nation’s self-regulated fishery management plan. He also spoke with reporters at the local wharf to discuss his community’s plan for this year’s treaty fishery.
Before he was arrested, Chief Sack told reporters he was concerned about the potential for violence and harassment against him and fishers from Sipekne’katik from non-Indigenous commercial fishers and DFO officers.
“I was pretty leery of coming here but I figured if my people are here, I had no choice but to come and support,” Chief Sack told reporters.
“I fear for our people on the water. You know, it’s just a rough time,” he said.
The Sipekne’katik chief and council recently announced its decision to transition from the DFO-regulated food, social and ceremonial fishery to its own treaty-based fishery following what it called “a series of debilitating acts of aggression” toward its food, social and ceremonial fishery.
In a news release issued on Aug. 13, the First Nation said fishing boats belonging to several community members were set adrift the first week in August “in an act of intimidation” as well as DFO’s compliance officers stepping up its screening of Mi’kmaw fishers and confiscating lobster traps.
RCMP said it was investigating “a report of boats being cut from their moorings at a wharf in Weymouth” that happened on Aug. 5. According to police, the ten boats affected were retrieved by their owners but $800 worth of lobster was stolen from one of the boats.
DFO Minister calls Sipekne’katik’s decision “concerning”
This is the second year that Sipekne’katik has issued its own lobster fishing licenses to community members so they can practice their treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a moderate livelihood.
When the Mi’kmaw community first launched its treaty fishery in Sept. 2020, fishers were met with strong opposition from non-Indigenous commercial fishers who oppose any commercial fishery outside of DFO’s commercial fishing season St. Mary’s Bay. That opposition turned into acts of intimidation, harassment, violence, vandalism and racism towards the Mi’kmaw fishers.
In response to Sipekne’katik’s announcement to resume its treaty fishery, DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan said on Friday “it is very concerning that Sipekne’katik is intending to proceed with an unauthorized fishery outside of DFO’s involvement.”
“DFO’s fishery officers will continue to enforce the Fisheries Act for all harvesters, including St. Marys Bay,” Minister Jordan said in a written statement.
Chief Sack said he viewed DFO’s decision to arrest and detain him Monday afternoon as a form of intimidation.
“It’s intimidation and trying to please the local commercial fishermen,” Chief Sack said.
“It’s almost like a sideshow. They did that and at the same time, they’re in the water pulling our traps from our people,” he said.
In a written response to Ku’ku’kwes News, a spokeswoman with DFO Maritimes said that the department cannot provide more details about Chief Sack’s arrest “due to the fact that there is an open investigation related to the arrest on the Saulnierville Wharf on August 16th.”
Millbrook Chief calls Sack’s arrest “detrimental” to reconciliation
The chief and council for the Millbrook First Nation issued a statement on Tuesday, calling Chief Sack’s arrest and detainment by DFO “adversarial and detrimental to Nation-to-Nation relationship building and reconciliation between Canada and all Indigenous peoples.”
“The Mi’kmaw in Nova Scotia are beneficiaries to both Aboriginal and Treaty Rights to fish, harvest and trade in seafood and other commodities,” Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade said in the public statement.
“The highest court of this land has affirmed these rights in R v. Sparrow, R v. Simon and R v. Marshall. Yet, we continue to be denied any practical effect flowing from these landmark decisions,” Chief Gloade said.
Chief Gloade called on the federal government “to immediately take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent” with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “with specific consideration made to eliminating the discriminatory and prejudicial provisions of the federal Fisheries Act.”
*Note: This news story was updated on August 19, 2021 to include a response from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.