The RCMP says it’s opening a criminal investigation into nine lobster fishing boats operated by Mi’kmaq fishers which were cut loose from a wharf Thursday in southwestern Nova Scotia.
Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack reported the boats were cast adrift from their berths in Weymouth North, N.S., to damage the band’s property and intimidate its fishers.
The Mounties said in an email today they are taking the complaint seriously and looking into the matter.
— RCMP, Nova Scotia (@RCMPNS) August 6, 2021
The RCMP is encouraging people to report anything they know about what happened to the boats.
Sack says the boats were ready to take part in the band’s food, social and ceremonial lobster fishery.
Mi’kmaw have the right to fish for a livelihood under the the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed in the mid 1700s. These treaties never ceded land.
The 1752 Treaty agreed that the Mi’kmaq “shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting & Fishing as usual.”
The 1760-61 Treaties ensure the Mi’kmaw right to sell, barter and trade at truck houses which were run by the British at that time. This is the Treaty Right that Donald Marshall Jr. asserted when he was charged for fishing and selling eels out of season, without a licence.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld this right in what is known as the Marshall Decision and coined the phrase “moderate livelihood.”
No progress in other incidents of vandalism
Police have made no progress in at least two other investigations of vandalism against Mi’kmaw fishers.
On Dec. 26, 2019, a Mi’kmaw fishing boat belonging to Ashton Bernard of Eskasoni First Nation was sunk after someone drilled holes in the hull.
In October 2020, a boat belonging to Robert Syliboy, a Sipekne’katik First Nation harvester was torched when it was tied up at Comeauville wharf in Digby County, Nova Scotia.
RCMP have not solved either crime.
The band attracted national attention last fall when it started a separate, self-regulated commercial lobster fishery on St. Marys Bay, three months before the federally regulated season was scheduled to open.
It was met with attacks from non-Indigenous commercial fishers who cut traps, fired flares at their boats, torched a van owned by a Mi’kmaw harvester and destroyed several tonnes of lobster as RCMP officers stood by and watched.
One man was eventually charged with arson and more than 20 others face other charges related to the violence.
According to documents obtained by APTN News, the federal government, including the RCMP, were more concerned with the moderate fishery the Mi’kmaw were launching than about the violence being inflicted upon them.
In the past, Sipekne’katik First Nation has publicly called on fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to denounce the violence against Mi’kmaw fishers.
Community members tell APTN that DFO turned back a boat belonging to Sipekne’katik First Nation as it went out on St. Marys Bay to harvest lobster for the traditional giveaway.
APTN contacted Jordan’s office for comment on Thursday after the incident was reported but haven’t heard back.
As of this posting, DFO hasn’t issued a statement regarding the Mi’kmaw fishing boats.
Watch Angel Moore’s story on the Mi’kmaw harvesters
With files from the Canadian Press