More than two decades after Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that Indigenous communities could engage in “moderate livelihood” fishing outside of commercial fishing rules, the Mi'kmaw people in southwestern Nova Scotia launched a small lobster fishing venture in the weeks before the official season was set to start in November.
The Mi'kmaw have set out about 500 lobster traps. By comparison, Canada’s commercial fishing vessels collectively monitor more than 900,000 traps in the Atlantic Ocean.
But commercial fishermen in the region are furious that the Mi'kmaw are exercising their right to fish, claiming that the project threatens lobster populations, and they have embarked on a campaign of terrorism to sabotage the tribe.
Conservationists say that the Mi'kmaw lobster expedition doesn’t pose a threat to what are very healthy lobster populations, especially when considering the scale of commercial fishing, according to Hakai Magazine.
In recent weeks, commercial fishermen have raided Mi'kmaw storage facilities to destroy the catch within and have set Mi'kmaw boats and vans on fire, according to CBC. They’ve fired flares at Mi'kmaw fishing vessels, blocked their boats from reaching shore, and forcefully removed their traps from the water.
This is a disgusting and cowardly and violent act. White fishermen broke into the #MikMaq lobster storage facility and destroyed thousands of pounds of live lobster in "protest." These are the men crying #conservation. #fridaymorningpic.twitter.com/Bctiy5nb80— Jeff Barnaby (@tripgore) October 16, 2020
The attacks have spurred a reckoning in the region over Indigenous sovereignty, the role of the government, the nature of conservation, and widespread racism in Canada. Indigenous communities in Canada have long railed against the government’s inability to provide them with basic human rights such as access to water, natural resources, and health care, as well as freedom from violence and discrimination.
tonight in southwestern Nova Scotia, a van owned by a Mi'kmaw fish harvester set on fire. video: Facebook. @APTNNewspic.twitter.com/9jzPefCPjU— angel moore (@angelharksen) October 14, 2020
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller condemned the attacks on the Mi'kmaw on Thursday.
"I cannot end this conference ... without addressing the incidents in southwestern Nova Scotia in what amounts to an assault on the Mi'kmaw people," Miller told a news conference.
"These unacceptable acts of violence, including the assault on [Sipekne'katik Chief Mike] Sack with threats and intimidation, some racist in nature, cannot and will not fetter the right of the people to pursue a moderate livelihood,” he added.
Ways to support the Mi'kmaw Treaty Fishery. Share wide and far!https://t.co/qp5x3vOqcb— Agent NDN (@TheAgentNDN) September 19, 2020
Chief Mike Sack was attacked by fishermen who raided the Mi’kmaw compound.
The police in the region haven’t made a single arrest for the violence enacted against the Mi’kmaw people, even though police officers witnessed some of it, CBC reported.
The Mi’kmaw people are calling for the federal government to intervene and protect their rights to earn a modest living, as guaranteed by the Supreme Court.
"You know, they're sitting in their office, safe as can be, saying we need safety out here," Chief Sack told CBC. "Send enforcement down. Like, do your job. Protect Canadians. We're all Canadians. Come here, protect us, and don't just tweet about it."
"It's come to the point where it's a matter of, 'Do our lives matter?'" he added.
As tensions escalate, Indigenous leaders are calling on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the federal government, and police forces to step in to resolve the situation.
Otherwise, the conflict could join a long list of indignities without redress heaped on Canada’s Indigenous people.