by Sarah Armstrong (October 26, 2020)
I am writing to you from what is known as the Town of Antigonish, located on the unceded territory of Mi’kma’ki – which comprises what is now called Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, New Brunswick and parts of the Gaspé region of Quebec. The Peace and Friendship Treaties (1725-1761) between the Crown and the Indigenous Peoples of the geographic area of the Northeast Atlantic Coast, including the Treaty of 1752, signed by the Mi’kmaq, the Maliseet and the Passamaquoddy, are relevant to the current conflict with settler fishers today.
Like many settlers, I was raised to believe many falsehoods about Indigenous People. My daily life separated me from any awareness of the painful truths of colonialism, slavery, racism and the continued oppression and attempts at both cultural and racial genocide: from Northern suicide crises to the absorption of Indigenous children into the colonizers’ social services systems. In my adult life, I have worked to break down my belief systems and rebuild them, while studying to better understand both Indigenous histories and worldviews.
I am attempting to convey a complicated and nuanced situation. I may gloss over details that someone else may not, and highlight others. I am attaching a hefty list of resources that I encourage you to select from to augment this brief overview. Furthermore, I ask you to be generous with your financial support. The destruction of property coupled with the blacklisting of Indigenous fishers by commercial buyers who fear being tainted by the brush of conflict, have left families and communities in a precarious position heading into winter [-your help may represent a lifeline].
The Mi’kmaq people have lived, fished and sustained these lands, skies and waters since time immemorial. Everything interconnected: everything in balance with each other. Colonization, the great disruptor, exists to extract wealth from what are deemed to be “resources”. Indeed, the Peace and Friendship Treaties – though providing a framework for nonviolent coexistence – had as a primary purpose to establish commercial trade and to provide a formalized legal basis – in the colonizers’ eyes – for lands to be opened to colonization. No land, nor resources, nor rights, were ever given up by the Mi’kmaq.
The Treaty of 1752, within the broader file of the Peace and Friendship Treaties, contains a clause affirming the right for Mi’kmaq fishers to establish “Truck Houses” – which would serve as trading posts. This clause additionally enshrined the right to hunt and fish throughout Mi’kma’ki, to maintain a “moderate livelihood”. The lack of definition of this term is a key factor in the conflict today. For generations, Indigenous Peoples here have held the right to build and maintain Truck Houses, but it is only in recent decades that communities have increasingly acted on their right.
Fast forward to 1993, when Mi’kmaq fisher, Donald Marshall Jr., was arrested for selling his catch of eels without a license. A decade earlier, Marshall was freed from prison after serving 11 years for a murder he was ultimately proven not to have committed. Referencing the Treaty of 1752, Marshall used the settlement from his wrongful conviction to press his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favour. The 1999 Marshall Decision, applied to 34 Mi’kmaq and Milseet bands across the Maritimes, affirming their right to fish.
The legal impact of the Marshall Decision was manifested in the interpretation of the 1990 Sparrow Decision, which upheld Indigenous fishing rights, and any other right that pre-existed the Constitution Act of 1982. It also imposed severe constraints on those ‘rights’, permitting fishing only for food, social and ceremonial purposes (FSC). The interconnectedness of these decisions, coupled with a lack of follow-through in developing resource management plans in coordination with Indigenous co-managers, has led to upset and confusion among settler fishers, who perceive the assertion of FSC and small-scale commercial rights as a threat to their livelihoods.
The years following the Marshall Decision were characterized by acts of violence, arson, property destruction and intimidation perpetrated by settlers in retaliation against Indigenous fishers. Disagreements caused by the lack of definitions of “moderate livelihood”; and over off-season fishing rights boiled over across the region. The current intensification of intimidation in New Edinburgh and Middle West Pubnico (where Sipekne’katik First Nation store their catch) are more than simply reminiscent of the 1999 and 2002 conflicts in Burnt Church, New Brunswick and the former Indian Brook, Nova Scotia (now Sipenkne’katik).
What Is Happening in Southwestern Nova Scotia?
On Sept. 17, the 21st anniversary of the Marshall Decision, Sipekne’katik First Nation in full possession of their Treaty rights launched its moderate livelihood fishery and began distributing their own licenses and tags to members of the community, for a total of 500 traps. A complete incomprehension of Indigenous rights, worldviews and cultures on the part of settlers has been disturbingly evident. Claims that off-season First Nation lobster fishing is threatening their ability to operate their own is an absolute falsehood.
Racism thrives where ignorance abounds. This has nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with racist entitlement. The Department of Fisheries has confirmed that there is no risk to the lobsters at this time. If Mi’kmaq fishing increases over time, tags may need to be reduced or redistributed, but that is not a concern right now. It is notable that Clearwater (which has been fined 48 times for gross violations of conservation mandates) holds a monopoly in shellfish trapping in the North Atlantic. It has largely kept its shady operation out of public scrutiny even though they drop approximately 394,000 traps per season. The entire Atlantic lobster trade accounts for approximately 900,000 traps.
Call It What It Is: White Terrorism
The violence, arson, disrespect, destruction of property, and death threats directed at the Mi’kmaq – mostly all in the presence of RCMP officers – is unacceptable and would never have been allowed to escalate had the perpetrators been Indigenous. The intention is obvious: to create a level of fear and intimidation with the intention of forcing Mi’kmaq fishers out of the waters. There is no other word for this but Terrorism. Like all Terrorism perpetrated by white men, the severity is downplayed, justified, and embraced as part of a “both-sides”-ism narrative that most all major media outlets now so uncritically promote.
The initial lack response and the delay of effective action from all levels of government make clear that systemic racism is baked-in all parts of Canada’s political and police system. Indeed, the systematic and at times violent imposition of a political, economic and cultural white supremacy built the Canada that exists today.
Settlers have a responsibility to learn the history of the lands on which they live, their place within it, and form ally-relationships with Indigenous communities. We should be vigilant to expand our media intake, and especially to seek out and support independent media, and Indigenous-led media. Some resources in that vein are below (credit: Charlotte Rose Connolly)
Where Do We Go from Here?
Last Wednesday, NS Supreme Court imposed an injunction to end access to the two wharves and storage facility used by the Mi’kmaq fishers. Though welcomed, the injunction does not protect fishers while at sea, as was hoped it would. Financial loses – in terms of property and of lobster sales – have not been addressed. Settlers and allies are urged to send support via the channels linked below. (Thanks to Charlotte Connolly for the following information.)
WAYS TO SUPPORT MI’KMAQ TREATY RIGHTS AND LIVELIHOOD FISHERIES
1. DONATE. E-TRANSFER:
● FRONTLINES: email@example.com
● SIPEKNE’KATIK FIRST NATION: firstname.lastname@example.org (paypal also)
● UNA’MAKI FISHERS FOR STOLEN EQUIPMENT: email@example.com
● POTLOTEK FIRST NATIONS FOR STOLEN EQUIPMENT: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. EMAIL & CALL YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS. HERE IS A TEMPLATE & CONTACT INFO
● AND SHARE THESE ACTIONS:
○ COLLECTIVE ACTION
○ LEAD NOW
1. SUBSCRIBE TO KU’KU’KWES NEWS by MAUREEN GOOGOO
2. DROP OFF SUPPLIES TO THE WHARF IN SAULNIERVILLE (60 Saulnierville Rd)
● VISIT THIS DOCUMENT TO ARRANGE A RIDE OR A SUPPLY DROP-OFF
● Current Needs (UPDATED OCTOBER 22):
➔ disposable masks
➔ sage, sweetgrass & other medicinal herbs, tobacco pouches
➔ kitchen knives, cutting boards, big pots & pans
➔ paper cups & plates
➔ dish soap, sponges & aerosol spray
➔ daily ice supply
➔ individual juices/drinks
➔ evaporated milk & milk powder
➔ brown sugar
➔ spices: pepper, cinnamon, steak spice
➔ premade meals
➔ root & canned veggies
➔ honey & ginger
➔ white bread
➔ carafes for hot water
➔ markers & tape
➔ plastic storage bins
➔ flashlights & headlamps
➔ generators & gasoline
➔ propane heaters
➔ gas cards
➔ power banks
➔ mobile minute cards
➔ big canvas tent
➔ foldable tables
➔ winter jackets (L, XL, XXXL)
● If you work in the restaurant industry, discontinuing the sale of lobster is a way to show solidarity with the Mi’kmaq.
● Please write positive reviews of businesses which boycott lobster as they are receiving negative comments.
● Read more about Clearwater’s illegal fishing: ecologyaction.ca/clearwater
1. SHARE AND AMPLIFY MI’KMAW VOICES. HERE ARE ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW:
Sipe’kne’katik Moderate Livelihood Fishery
Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs
Assembly of First Nations
RESOURCES TO SHARE WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
ANGRY MOB TRAP MI’KMAW FISHERMEN AT A LOBSTER POUND
“ALL EYES ON MI’KMA’KI”
APTN, THE FACTS BEHIND MI’KMAW FISHING RIGHTS
TREATY EDUCATION NOVA SCOTIA
“We Are All Treaty People”
How to be a Treaty Person
MI’KMAW STATE OF EMERGENCY:
WARRIOR LIFE, CHERYL MALONEY ON MI’KMAW RIGHT TO GOVERN FISHERY
MI’KMAW TREATY RIGHTS, RECONCILIATION, AND ‘THE RULE OF LAW’
Commercial Fishing under Aboriginal and Treaty Rights: Supreme Court of Canada Decisions
PEACE & FRIENDSHIP TREATIES
SECTION 35, CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
THE MARSHALL DECISION:
Mi’kmaq and the Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework https://yellowheadinstitute.org/2018/06/05/mikmaq-rights-framework/
What is Decolonization? Mi’kmaw Ancestral Relational Understandings and Anthropological Perspectives on Treaty Relations (Chapter 1)
ABORIGINAL LAND AND RIGHTS
FILM: IS THE CROWN AT WAR WITH US?
UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
“Food Fish, Commercial Fish, and Fish to Support a Moderate Livelihood: Characterizing Aboriginal and Treaty Rights to Canadian Fisheries” by Douglas Harris & Peter Millerd
AMBER BERNARD, “MODERATE LIVELIHOOD IS NOT AN ILLEGAL FISHERY”:
“Moderate livelihood is not an illegal fishery” – Mi’kmaq fishermen question if reconciliation is real
CBC, MI’KMAW JOURNALIST ASSESS MEDIA COVERAGE OF MI’KMAW FISHERY DISPUTE:
NOVA SCOTIA ADVOCATE, AFTER 21 YEARS OF GOVERNMENT INACTION MI’KMAW ASSERT THEIR RIGHT TO FISH:
LOBSTER FISHERY AT A CROSSROADS (3 Part Series)
‘TERRORIZING OUR PEOPLE’: N.S. MI’KMAW FISHERS HAVE THEIR PROPERTY VANDALIZED, LOBSTERS DESTROYED
VEHICLE TORCHED, LOBSTER POUNDS STORING MI’KMAW CATCHES TRASHED DURING NIGHT OF UNREST IN NS
TEMPERS IGNITE IN LOBSTER FISHERY DISPUTE
contact email@example.com / insta: @charcon / twitter: @charlierosecon with questions or updates.
Located in Mi’kma’ki, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people