Liz Goodridge was among the allies who came out to spend last weekend on the Saulnierville wharf in support of the Mi’kmaw fishers. This is her report. Photos are by Tonya Francis Photography.
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Through threats and intimidation commercial fishers from Southwestern Nova Scotia attempted to stop the Sipekne’katik First Nation from exercising their rights to a treaty-based moderate livelihood fishery.
Things got so ugly and tense that by last Friday the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs declared a state of emergency and hundreds of Mi’kmaq supporters and their allies from Mi’kma’ki showed up in support at the wharf in Saulnierville. Food, tents, tarps and blankets piled up, as well as wood for the sacred fire and tobacco for prayers and ceremony.
Commercial fishers meanwhile maintained a presence just outside the access checkpoints, creating an extremely ugly and threatening atmosphere. Business owners in neighboring communities denied service to anyone they thought might be Indigenous, counter to human rights legislation that forbids discrimination based on race.
Some of the non-native fishers and/or their supporters used racial slurs and even sexual threats against the women and girls present. A constant stream of trucks drove by or parked facing the impromptu camp. During the night the trucks lined up with headlights trained on the Mi’kmaw Treaty Rights defenders until well after midnight. The trucks started arriving again an hour or two before dawn.
While the RCMP looked on, people cautioned each other not to wander off alone, to check in to make sure Elders were doing alright and to offer prayers of peace and safety. Parents kept a close eye on their children.
By Sunday there would be more incidents. When three small boats left the harbour to haul traps they were met by a convoy of well over a hundred commercial vessels. The convoy proceeded to chase the smaller boats circling and possibly ramming one of them. Hundreds of traps had been hauled up by the commercial fishers. Several of these incidents were caught on camera by an APTN news crew.
There was a noticeable absence of any protection for the Mi’kmaq fishers, there was neither Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans nor RCMP presence on the water.
Supporters climbed onto the breakwater to observe the boats, some of the grandmothers prayed, others sang and drummed.
While people were distracted by the tense situation on the water, a group of commercial fishers and/or their supporters blocked one of the entrances and attempted to gain access to the wharf.
By the time the people on the breakwater made their way to the checkpoint the RCMP had put themselves in between the two groups.
Mi’kmaw grandmothers and drummers formed a line at the front and eventually the commercial fishers backed off.
Some of these same men followed a female reporter, her vehicle clearly marked with the broadcaster’s logo, and attempted to surround her as she tried to leave the site. She returned to the camp.
Inside the checkpoint to the wharf the people remained composed, reminding each other to meet hatred with kindness, maintaining their resolve and sense of humour while offering warm welcomes, food and shelter to the many non-natives who came to support them.
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