We are seeing the ultimate double standard unfold right now in unceded Mi’kmaq territory in Canada as the dispute over the lobster fishery continues to escalate. We have seen non-Indigenous Canadian commercial lobster fishermen torch boats and vehicles belonging to Mi’kmaq lobster fishermen.
We’ve seen non-Indigenous Canadians seize the catch of Mi’kmaq fishermen, who are exercising their right to a moderate living, a right guaranteed by the Canadian constitution, and affirmed by the Marshall Supreme Court decision from 1999.
The Mi’kmaq have been harvesting lobster within their traditional territory since time immemorial. In 1752, they signed a treaty with Britain affirming their hunting, fishing and trading rights. Jean-Baptiste Cope signed on behalf of the Mi’kmaq and Nova Scotia Governor Peregrine Thomas Hopson signed for the British.
These are Indigenous rights that the Mi’kmaq have practiced for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of European settlers to the shores of Mi’kma’ki, now known as Canada’s Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). They are recognized in a 270-year-old treaty between sovereign nations and guaranteed in constitutional law; the Mi’kmaq certainly do not need anyone’s permission to continue on with their way of life.
So, when the Canadian mainstream media, and non-Indigenous critics say that the Mi’kmaq “claim to have the right” to fish, they are either ill-informed or ignorant. It denies the Mi’kmaq inherent rights.
We are seeing non-Indigenous fishermen in Nova Scotia argue that they oppose the Mi’kmaq fishery due to conservation concerns. Yet, the Mi’kmaq fishery operates on three licences totalling 150 lobster traps. But no one is talking about 51,000 tons of lobster caught by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen in Nova Scotia each year – a catch worth upwards of $500 million – 60 percent of which is exported to the U.S.
These same non-Indigenous fishermen have threatened the catch of Mi’kmaq fishermen stored at lobster pounds. Violent clashes ensured at these lobster pounds and, early on Saturday morning, a suspicious fire destroyed one of those facilities. Last week, a Mi’kmaq fisherman’s vehicle was set on fire.
The violence against the Mi’kmaq has been escalating over the past weeks and the police have done very little to put an end to it. If the proverbial shoe was on the other foot and it was the Mi’kmaq who were intimidating non-Indigenous fishermen, the police would certainly be out in force.
We only need to look back to the police presence in many Indigenous communities at the start of this year with the railway blockades, or to the Mi’kmaq protests against shale gas exploration in Rexton, New Brunswick, seven years ago. The RCMP responded to that peaceful protest with a SWAT team.
Many Canadians are quick to say that “the rule of law” needs to be respected whenever Indigenous people exert their rights. In this case, the rule of law here is the Mi’kmaq have the legal right to fish and that needs to be respected.
Photo courtesy of the Toronto Star.