A Mi’kmaw leader wants the prime minister to step in after a van was torched and lobsters were destroyed during a night of violence that saw an angry mob surround Mi’kmaw fishers barricaded in a Nova Scotia lobster pound.
“Prayers are needed for our people,” said Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack on Facebook. “I have been in contact with the National Chief (Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations) and will be talking to him in the morning. We need the Prime Minister to stop this. I’m very grateful that our people were not hurt.”
Two conflicts unfolded on Tuesday evening, one in West Pubnico and one in Weymouth, both about three hours west of Halifax.
Social media videos show flames billowing from a van and the torched interior. Several other videos and live feeds document the tense encounters following the blaze.
Unverified posts accuse non-Mi’kmaw fishers of cutting power to the pound building, destroying the holding tank with paint thinner or chlorine and pouring PVC rubber cement on lobsters.
“I’ve got myself barricaded in the lobster pound here,” said Jason Marr in a live video. “There’s a couple a hundred non-Natives out there. They talked the cops into forcibly letting them take my lobsters. They’ve destroyed my van. There’s a couple hundred of them out there.”
The RCMP attended the incidents but often appear to only stand by and watch. Police said Wednesday that they are are investigating threats and mischief after disturbances at both sites.
Police say they responded at 4 p.m. to the Weymouth incident where the van was wrecked. RCMP say roughly 200 people surrounded the lobster pound, throwing rocks and damaging commercial property.
At 9 p.m., RCMP were called to the West Pubnico altercation where 200 people again surrounded a lobster pound preventing employees from leaving. They are investigating reports of crimes against person and property after the situation escalated.
No arrests were made. Sgt. Andrew Joyce said police are gathering evidence related to the van fire to determine whether it was arson.
Joyce declined to comment on the alleged destruction of lobsters, citing the open investigation.
He said Mounties have to take a measured response to the situation that prioritizes public and officer safety followed by protection of property, suggesting the issues underlying the dispute aren’t ones police can solve.
“There are people with agendas that want to try to make this a policing issue rather than the serious issue that it is,” said Joyce. “We, of course, don’t want to make it a policing issue. We just want this to be resolved safely and humanely as possible, and we recognize the seriousness of the situation to all involved. People are free to criticize the police and have been forever in this country.”
One video shows huge piles of lobsters being dumped on the ground as police in yellow reflector vests look on. Police follow Mi’kmaw fishers back into the pound to document the damage in the dark.
“This act of vigilantism now affects Sipekne’katik’s ability to sell its licensed fishery lobster to promote prosperity within our community and is a direct attempt to force us out of the very market we have been a part of for years,” Sack said in a release.
The Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a self-regulated moderate livelihood fishery last month outside of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’s (DFO) season for that area.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that the Mi’kmaq Nation has a right to fish for a moderate livelihood based on Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and 1761.
The high court did not define moderate livelihood, however, and added the caveat that DFO can still regulate for conservation purposes.
Commercial fishers immediately protested the fishery and seized or destroyed Mi’kmaw lobster traps almost as quickly as they were set.
APTN News requested an interview with Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan but received a statement instead.
“I am appalled by the reported events in Digby County last night and I strongly condemn the actions of every individual who destroyed property, committed violence, or uttered threats. There is no place for this kind of violence or intimidation,” said the statement.
“I am particularly disturbed to hear reports of racist comments and actions made towards First Nations peoples. This is unacceptable and we all have a responsibility to call out and condemn this kind of behavior and language.”
Jordan called for calm and said talks were positive so far but added that progress can’t be made if people resort to violence.
APTN contacted the prime minister’s office seeking comment on whether Justin Trudeau would intervene in the violence directed at Mi’kmaw fishers. A spokesperson for Trudeau declined the request and referred us back to Jordan’s statement.
For more coverage visit our special topic page here: Mi’kmaw Fishing Rights