Canada’s minister of Indigenous affairs said Thursday that violent raids on Mi’kmaw fishing facilities in the eastern province of Nova Scotia constitute “an assault” on the Indigenous community, as calls grow for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene.
In a news conference in Ottawa, Marc Miller said police must maintain the peace after videos emerged this week showing hundreds of non-Indigenous, commercial fishers raiding facilities where Mi’kmaw fishers had stored lobsters.
A van was set ablaze and hundreds of lobsters were destroyed, APTN News reported, while one Indigenous fisherman barricaded himself inside a storage facility as an angry mob shouted outside.
“These these unacceptable acts of violence including the assault on [Sipekne’katik First Nation] Chief [Mike] Sack, threats and intimidation – some racist in nature – cannot and will not threaten the right of the Mi’kmaw people to pursue a moderate livelihood,” Miller told reporters.
Tense confrontations have taken place over the past several weeks between commercial and Indigenous fishers, who are exerting their right to fish outside Canada’s federally regulated fishing season.
The Mi’kmaw people have a right under Canada’s constitution and treaties signed with the British Crown in the 1700s to fish in order to maintain a “moderate livelihood” for themselves.
That right was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999, but the court never defined a “moderate livelihood” – leading to uncertainty and disputes such as the one that took place this week.
Last month, Sipekne’katik First Nation created its own moderate livelihood fishery to be able to harvest outside of the season, prompting the ire of non-Indigenous commercial fishers in the province.
‘Despicable and racist acts’
Sack, the chief of Sipekne’katik First Nation, on Thursday called on Trudeau “to uphold Canada’s laws” and ensure that vigilantes are held accountable.
“These despicable and racist acts by an unruly mob against a First Nation have impacted and affected Sipekne’katik in a disturbing and unsettling manner,” Sack wrote on Facebook.
He said community members, including himself, have been “physically assaulted, harassed, intimidated, and are victims of racism and violence” and that Sipekne’katik “intends to seek civil remedies” against any person or group that is infringing on the community’s right to fish.
Bernadette Jordan, Canada’s fisheries minister, said on Wednesday that she was “appalled” by the events and “strongly” condemned the violence and intimidation that took place.
“Our government is seized with the issue, and we will continue to work with both First Nations and industry leadership to find a path forward. Our conversations to date have been positive, and we must ensure they continue that way,” Jordan said in a statement.
The acts of violence and intimidation committed in Digby County yesterday are unacceptable, and I join Minister Jordan in strongly condemning them. We cannot continue down this path. We must work together to advance reconciliation and implement First Nation treaty rights. https://t.co/B5UJuzAaLQ
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 14, 2020
The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs called on the provincial and federal governments, as well as the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP), Canada’s federal police force, to do more to protect Indigenous fishing rights, however.
“Non-Indigenous fishers and industry reps must understand that we will not be bullied into pulling our boats or gear out of the waters,” Chief Terrance Paul, the assembly’s co-chair and fisheries lead, said in a statement late Wednesday.
“Our communities will continue to exercise our fishing rights.”
In a statement Wednesday, the Nova Scotia RCMP said it is investigating “threats and mischief” in relation to two “disturbances” that occurred at the lobster storage facilities.
But the RCMP has been criticised for appearing to stand by during the raids.
Indigenous leaders and rights advocates have also slammed Trudeau, who campaigned on a promise of “reconciliation” between the Canadian government and Indigenous peoples, for failing to do more to protect the Indigenous fishers’ rights.