Today, close to 200 people gathered over the noon hour at the New Brunswick Legislature in Fredericton to support the Mi’kmaw lobster fishers currently facing violence from non-Indigenous commercial fishers near Digby, Nova Scotia.
Rally goers heard first from Passamaquoddy elder, teacher and song carrier Maggie Paul, Wolastoq clan grandmother Alma Brooks and Wolastoq Grand Council Chief spasaqsit possesom (Ron Tremblay).
“Every time we attempt to exercise our Aboriginal treaty rights, we see a big surge of racism,” said Brooks.
Twenty years ago, Mi’kmaw fishers in Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church) faced racism from other fishers in the region, and as documented in Alanis Obomsawin’s film, Is the Crown At War With Us?, Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers in their vessels ran over the smaller boats of Mi’kmaw fishers on the open waters of Miramichi Bay.
In the past two weeks, non-Indigenous commercial fishers in the Saulnierville area have escalated their violent attacks and threats against Mi’kmaw lobster fishers who are exercising their treaty right to fish lobster. The 1999 Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision affirms the Mi’kmaq right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
On October 14, a non-Indigenous fisher punched Sipekne’katik Chief Michael Sack in the face, a day after Mi’kmaw lobster fisher Jason Marr barricaded himself inside a lobster pound to keep himself safe from an angry mob outside. Marr livestreamed his ordeal.
On October 17, a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico was burned to the ground and piles of lobsters caught by Mi’kmaw fishers have been poisoned with chemicals.
Mi’kmaw scholar and lawyer Pamela Palmater criticized the RCMP for taking too long to respond to the violence and threats against the Mi’kmaq while they terrorize Indigenous land defenders on the territories of the Haudenosaunee and Wet’suwet’en.
Chris George whose mother is a Mi’kmaw woman from Eel River Bar First Nation is a doctoral student at the University of New Brunswick studying decolonization in education systems.
George implored the crowd to learn about the Peace and Friendship treaties, the concept of terra nullius, the Doctrine of Discovery and the Mayflower Compact signed 400 years ago.
“English settlers intentionally pushed beyond the boundaries of negotiated settlements in order to steal more land. It’s all about resource extraction and land acquisition,” said George.
“Wabanaki peoples met encroachments and our ancestors fought back until they negotiated a friendly peace in 1725,” said George, referring to the Peace and Friendship treaties signed between the British Crown and the Mi’kmaw and Wolastoqiyik peoples from 1725 to 1776.
“There are two perspectives of the Peace and Friendship treaties. Our ancestors knew what they were facing. They knew the genocide that was coming so they put into trust, into protection all their lands, traditions and way of life,” said George.
From the perspective of the British settlers, George continued, “the Peace and Friendship treaties were a policy of capture and contain.”
George encouraged the crowd to look at the Crown Lands and Forests Act and how other government legislation and practices continue to dispossess the Indigenous people of Wabanaki today.
“To settlers and New Brunswick, Crown land is a source of revenue and income. To our people, our ancestors, the land is a source of healing. It’s how we grow. It’s how we are going to relearn our language and reconnect to our ceremonies, our culture and our traditional ways of governance,” said George.
New Brunswick has a history of charging Wolastoqey and Mik’maw loggers for cutting wood on Crown lands. In response, Wolastoqey Nations are taking the government of New Brunswick to court for depriving the Wolastoqey people their treaty right to harvest Crown timber in order to earn a moderate livelihood.
Jenica Atwin, the Green Fredericton/Oromocto Member of Parliament, spoke of how she called a meeting with Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan about a month ago over the crisis enfolding in Mi’kma’ki. The Minister did not show up.
Atwin called on ministers of fisheries to educate themselves: “Any minister of fisheries must have a deep understanding and knowledge of the treaties. Minister Jordan had not read the treaties before this conflict. That’s a shame. We need our ministers to do their homework, to know what their job is and what their responsibilities are.”
Atwin said she is being contacted, as a Green MP, about the need for conservation in the fisheries. She reminded people that it is a corporation, Clearwater, that is harvesting an enormous amount of lobster and leaving lobster to waste on the ocean floor.
Clearwater’s massive fishing vessel has 6,500 traps. Other commercial boats typically have up to 400 traps while a Mi’kmaq moderate livelihood fishing boat has 50 traps.
“Of course, we want resources to be sustained for generations to come but that belief is inherent in the Mi’kmaq system,” declared Atwin. “As spasaqsit possesom said, let them fish as much as they need to feed their communities and families.”
Meanwhile, in other Mi’kmaw communities in Nova Scotia, conservation officers from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have seized more than 200 traps of Mi’kmaw harvesters in Potlotek and Eskasoni, according to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs.
David Coon, Fredericton MLA and Green Party of New Brunswick leader, attended the rally. He shared on Facebook, “As treaty people, it is all our responsibility to learn about and understand the Peace and Friendship Treaties. Indigenous people in the Maritimes have the right to earn a living from fishing. It is the law, affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. #AllEyesonMikmaki.”
The rally was organized by Black Lives Matter Fredericton, Amanda Myran, the Piluwitahasuwin (AVP Indigenous Engagement) at the University of New Brunswick, and the Wolastoq Grand Council.
Closing out the speakers, Felomena Deogratsias, with Black Lives Matter Fredericton, called on the crowd to shake the foundations of settler colonialism and racism, and to be kind to each other.
The rally ended with a moving rendition of the Mi’kmaw Honour Song and the crowd joining Amanda Myran in chanting, “Honour the treaties.”
Tracy Glynn is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.