Mi’kmaw nation, lobster harvesters suing feds for treaty violations

Theft of Mi’kmaw harvester’s lobster caught on video.

Sheyanne Francis is used to being hassled by enforcement officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, also known as DFO.

But a theft of her catch left her speechless.

“Gut wrenching, sick to my stomach, disgusted, wow,” she said.

After Francis and her crew left the wharf a small boat swung around alongside hers.

A video recorded by APTN News shows people loading Francis’ crate of lobster onto their boat.

The woman covers the crate with blue and red life jackets as they sped away.

People on the boat are cheering and laughing.

“I can’t even comprehend those guys, like if they wanted lobster, all they had to do was come over and ask us for it and we’d gladly give it to them,” Francis told APTN.

treaty violations
Sheyanne Francis on board her fishing boat harvesting lobster. Photo: Angel Moore/APTN.

This kind of harassment is nothing new for Francis – a member of the Sipekne’katik – a Mi’kmaw nation in Nova Scotia.

She harvests lobster as a treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood.

But it’s not an easy job.

If it’s not enforcement officers with DFO cutting or seizing her traps – she faces harassment from non-Mi’kmaw fishers.

Fed up with losing income, Francis, another Mi’kmaw fisher and the Sipekne’katik Nation filed suit against DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard.

“You guys keep acting up, you guys keep messing with us, you guys are going to get hit with more lawsuits you keep harassing us you going to get hit with lawsuits,” she said.

According to the statement of claim, “The defendants owe them for injuries, damages and loss suffered by the plaintiff are as a result of the defendants DFO fishery officers and Canadian Coast Guard personal.”

“Aforementioned careless, neglect and discriminatory actions, breach of duty, and infringement of the plaintiff’s Aboriginal rights.”

Mi’kmaw has a treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from the fishery. It’s a right that was enforced by the Supreme Court of Canada. But Canada hasn’t moved to protect those rights – or fishers from benefiting from them.

Read More: 

The Facts Behind Mi’kmaw Fishing Rights 

Michael McDonald, Treaty Fisheries Manager for Sipekne’katik Nation said the claim was filed after years of defending their fishing rights.

“Because we told them we’re not going to take it no more, we’re sick and tired of them infringing our rights and harassing us,” he said.

The claim, filed July 21, 2023, is claiming losses and damages including “loss of income from the sale of the lobsters from the confiscated traps,” it said.

McDonald said the DFO actions are harmful to fishers.

“All dealings with DFO have never been fair,” he said. “It’s a discriminatory racist system and they have not respect at all for our rights, our rights to fish our rights you know our treaty rights, our constitutional protected rights at that.”

Francis said she’ll buy more traps and continue to harvest lobster as is her treaty right.

“I pray to the creator that after this lawsuit not just myself but everyone else is going to be able to go out and fish and do whatever they need to do to provide for their families and themselves,” she said.

The DFO and coast guard have 30 days to file a statement of defence.

As for the lobster stolen from Francis’ boat, the RCMP says it’s investigating the incident.

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