Politics Blog: We need to support Indigenous fishers in Canada

Politics Blog: We need to support Indigenous fishers in Canada

St. Mary’s Bay, N.S. – October 24, 2020 – Mi’kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia are experiencing violence, vandalism, and harassment and are being denied gas and equipment as they attempt to carry out their treaty rights and earn a modest living.

In mid-September, the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a moderate livelihood fishery in St. Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia. In response, non-Indigenous commercial fisherman cut the Mi’kmaq’s fishing traps, committed arson, and spewed racist and violent comments towards Mi’kmaq fishers.

Many Canadians and residents of the St. Mary’s Bay community have voiced their support for Mi’kmaq fishers, including restaurants that have stopped selling lobster items harvested by non-Indigenous fishers. This highlights the important connections between food, politics, and collective action.

Non-indigenous fishers argue that the Mi’kmaq fishery will harm fish stocks in the upcoming lobster harvesting season in November and contend that their concerns mainly surround conservation. This is despite the fact that the scale of Mi’kmaq fishing in Nova Scotia is nowhere close to the harvesting of non-Indigenous fishers. More importantly, with Mi’kmaq lobster pounds being set on fire by non-Indigenous fishers, we must ask whether this dispute is really about conservation or if it is more about Canada’s unwillingness to uphold our treaties with Indigenous peoples.

The arguments that try to establish the appropriate number of traps that Mi’kmaq fishers can set are meaningless. In fact, the Sipekne’katik First Nation are well within their rights to set up their fishery. It is a right that is laid out in the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty and under Section 35 of the Constitution of Canada, and one that has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the 1999 R. v. Marshall decision.

On October 19, the NDP requested an emergency debate in the House of Commons, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh denouncing the violence against the Mi’kmaq and calling for immediate action to resolve the fishing dispute in St. Mary’s Bay.

Labour unions, including UFCW Canada, are now calling on the federal government to our uphold treaty rights with Indigenous peoples and quickly address the threats and discrimination that the Mi’kmaq fishers are experiencing. It is also time for the government to overhaul the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and take steps to ensure that disputes like the one we are seeing in Nova Scotia never happen again.

Canadian law clearly establishes that Indigenous fishers have the right to earn a moderate livelihood, and our elected officials have an opportunity to be on the right side of history on this issue by swiftly resolving the crisis in St. Mary’s Bay.