On September 17, 2020, Mi’kmaw chiefs declared a state of emergency at the Rights Implementation Fishery in what is currently known as Nova Scotia. The declaration occurred just one day after the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched the self-regulated fishery on September 16. Within hours of the fishery’s launch, non-Indigenous commercial fishers reacted violently, cutting the lines of lobster traps, physically blocking boats at Saulnierville wharf, and firing flares at Indigenous fishers. Most recently, 600 people gathered outside the fishery and threatened to burn down the wharf and the Mi’kmaw fishers’ boats. In order to protect themselves as well as their livelihood, Mi’kmaw fishers formed a blockade made of lobster traps and rope.
The Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1752 protect the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s right to a moderate livelihood through the fishery –the term “moderate livelihood,” introduced by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999, has yet to be defined. Despite the fact that these treaties were affirmed in the 1999 Marshall decision by the Supreme Court, commercial fishers argue that it is illegal for the Sipekne’katik First Nation to fish out of season. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has avoided negotiations with the Sipekne’katik First Nation by referring to the Treaties’ stipulation that the department has the right to regulate fishing for conservation reasons, and for what they refer to as “other important public objectives.” The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs has stated that the DFO’s options “continue to infringe on [their] treaty rights.”
Representatives of commercial fisheries and non-Indigenous members of the community argue that the Rights Implementation Fishery is unsustainable and damaging to the lobster population, as lobsters are not currently in season. Contrary to these accusations, Mi’kmaw fishers have a history of sustainable marine stewardship. Documents from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), obtained through a Freedom of Information request in 2019, assert that: “Lobster stocks across the Maritimes Region remain very healthy.” The Sipekne’katik nation has also developed a sustainability plan for their fishery: they have given out a total of seven fishing licenses, and only three are currently in use. The impact of this amount of fishing is minuscule when compared to the scale of the commercial fishery, which has awarded 925 licenses. In terms of the number of lobster traps, there are 250 Mi’kmaw traps in comparison with approximately 390,000 non-Indigenous-owned traps.
Within the last week, Mi’kmaw fishers have that commercial fishing boats have dispersed from the wharf. Additionally, the DFO was ordered to have the commercial fishers return all stolen traps to the Mi’kmaq, and the RCMP has announced that, at the request of Mi’kmaw chiefs, an investigation into the harassment of the Mi’kmaw fishers and destruction of their equipment will be conducted. We must recognize that Indigenous land sovereignty includes the access to resources and food that make up Mi’kmaq livelihoods and traditions, and that these must be respected. Colonial ideals of land “ownership” do not have the complexity to encapsulate Indigenous peoples’ rights to full access and use of the land, including the right to economic independence and security.
Charlotte Connolly, a community-based researcher and environmental justice advocate, has created a document that lists a number of ways to help, including where to donate, which representatives to call, further resources, and accounts to share and follow in order to support the Mi’kmaw. At the time of publication, the Sipekne’katik nation requests that you donate by sending an e-transfer or paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “1752 moderate livelihood.”
You can also follow @TheAgentNDN, @mgoogoo, @Kukukwes, @amberblueskye, and @angelharksen on Twitter for ongoing updates and general information about the conditions in the fishery. We must support the right to food sovereignty and to a self-determined livelihood from fishing for the Mi’kmaq people of Sipekne’katik First Nation. As Sipekne’katik band member Cheryl Maloney said, “these are independent fisherman that are trying to buy their own boats, buy their own traps and so the commitment is to be here for the long haul, so we’re looking at fundraising and finding more money for the resistance.”