Dear non-Mi’kmaw fishers: Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia have an inherent right to fish, you do not

For weeks Mi’kmaw fishers have been harassed on and off the waters off Nova Scotia.

Terence Augustine saw non-Mi’kmaw fishers cut his lobster traps set off the coast of Nova Scotia.

He said some gas stations and restaurants in the Saulnierville area, three hours west of Halifax, refused to serve him and other Mi’kmaw fishers.

It’s racism – on and off the water.

“There’s such pressure from the commercial fishermen, it’s like they run the show here,” said Augustine on the season premiere of Nation to Nation that focused entirely on the Mi’kmaq’s fight for their right to fish.

“When we get back on land we have places that won’t serve us. Like we go out, we spend money here …. try to get something to eat and [they] say no we don’t allow you here to eat. We’ve had fuel companies tell us they’re not allowed to fuel us.”

But he didn’t stop fishing even if that meant going to gas stations with jerry cans – over and over – to get the gas he needed to fuel his lobster boat.

The reason is simple.

“I want my children to be able to go out and fish whenever they want. It’s not for us, it’s for the future,” said Augustine.

It was just a couple weeks ago that his boat was surrounded by non-Mi’kmaw fishing boats as he set his traps which was captured by APTN News reporter Angel Moore who was on Augustine’s boat.

“They were following us as we dropped our pots but on our way back in I could see all my buoys floating. They had already cut them all off,” he said.

Then earlier this week a different Mi’kmaq fisherman had his boat torched, which the RCMP have said was a suspicious fire.

What the non-Mi’kmaw fishers don’t seem to know, or refuse to accept, is that the Mi’kmaq are the only people with an inherent right to fish the waters off Nova Scotia.

It’s a privilege for everyone else.

APTN Investigates reporter Trina Roache explained the right to fish can also be found in the ink of signed treaties of the 1700s, which were upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999.

Yet, 21 years later, here we are with the same problems.

Roache said it doesn’t help that the department of fisheries and oceans have been charging Mi’kmaw fishers for fishing out of season or without a license throughout the last two decades.

“That sends a message to everyone involved that what the Mi’kmaq are doing is wrong somehow, that they shouldn’t be out there,” said Roache.

When in reality what the department should have been doing for the last two decades is implement the high court’s decision into law.

But that hasn’t happened.

Another issue, according to Roache, is that non-Mi’kmaw fishers ramped up the rhetoric of overfishing.

“Conservation is not a concern here, so there’s a lot of rhetoric that sort of happens and not a lot of understanding either about the treaty right or the fact that this is not some sort of free-for-all,” said.

The only Mi’kmaw member of parliament, Jaime Battiste who represents the riding of Sydney-Victoria on Cape Breton, said there needs to be more education.

“These fisherman are not aware of our treaty rights, they are not aware of the Marshall decision, they are not aware of the Mikmaq values,” said Battiste.

Battiste said everyone needs to get to the table and iron this out.

You can watch the complete show above or listen to the Nation to Nation podcast.

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