Fisheries conflict: Mi’kmaw Chiefs declare state of emergency

Sipekne’katik Chief Michael Sack at the opening ceremony of the fishery and where a moderate livelihood licence was given to Donald Marshall Jr.’s son Randy Sack.

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs have declared a State of Emergency as tensions rise in response to a Mi’kmaw rights-based fishery.

In a press release issued Friday, the chiefs cite the “political unrest” and “violence occurring over Mi’kmaq fisheries across the province.”

RCMP arrested two people for assault during an altercation related to the non-Indigenous protests in Weymouth, N.S. No charges were laid, and the two individuals were released pending a court date.

It’s not clear whether the two arrested were Mi’kmaq or not.

RCMP are also investigating complaints including uttering threats, mischief, and shots fired overnight. The RCMP are on scene, as a tense standoff unfolds near the wharf in Saulnierville in southern Nova Scotia where the Mi’kmaq dock their boats.

Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack spoke with reporters Thursday.

“I always take it back to ignorance. People are not aware of what we’re fighting for,” he said.

“They think we’re trying to take food off their table. But on the other hand, we only want food on our table.”

When asked by Mi’kmaw journalist Maureen Googoo, “Is it ignorance, or is it racism?”  He replied, “All of the above. “

On Thursday, the mood was celebratory as the Sipekne’katik First Nation kicked off its moderate livelihood fishery with a ceremony on the wharf in Saulnierville.

The band developed its own management plan for a moderate livelihood fishery. The chief handed out licences and the Mi’kmaq headed out into St. Mary’s Bay to drop their lobster traps.

“Our people are really proud,” said Brandon Maloney, fisheries manager for Sipekne’katik. “We’ve been fighting for these rights for as long as I can remember.”

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Mi’kmaw treaty right to barter and trade resources from fishing, hunting, and gathering.

The department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO, negotiated deals that granted Mi’kmaq to access the commercial fishery through communal licences operated by the bands.

But Canada has never fully implemented the Marshall Decision.

In a statement, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan, wrote, “Until an agreement is reached with DFO, there cannot be a commercial fishery outside the commercial season. A sound management framework is necessary for the management and conservation of fish stocks.”

In media briefing lines obtained through a freedom of information request, department officials wrote in October of 2019,  “IF PRESSED, on the health of lobster stocks in the Maritimes Region. Lobster stocks across the Maritimes Region remain very healthy.”

Sipekna’katik band member Cheryl Maloney says the Canadian government has never given the DFO the mandate to recognize a moderate livelihood fishery.

“It took us a while to figure it out, but it’s our mandate,” said Maloney. “It’s us as a government, as a self-governing authority that needs to make it happen.

“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.”

Brandon Maloney describes dozens of non-Mi’kmaw fishing boats waiting in protest out in the bay and said, “I do believe they cut off our buoys as soon as we dropped them.”

The chiefs’ state of emergency order includes setting up a command center in the area “to support Mi’kmaw harvesters, their families, and supporters.

“The Assembly will be coordinating assistance and support across organizations and service providers in order to protect the safety and security of Mi’kmaq affected by this political unrest.”

The order is in effect until Tuesday, September, 22, and may be extended if necessary.

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