featured Racism

Sadie Beaton: Staying with the trouble – Some thoughts on white supremacy, entanglement and the Mi’kmaq right to fish

Photo Sadie Beaton
among the things that whiteness is,
is it's a set of practices
that pretends the possibility
of disentanglement.

we are entangled
and to pretend that we’re not
requires us to do the most 
horrific things.

Ross Gay

When it comes to the fisheries, nothing has ever been simple. But a few things are clear here: That for over 13,000 years Mi’kmaq have been living and fishing in Mi’kmaki. That racism runs deep on these lands and waters. That Canada has no intention of meaningfully recognizing the Mi’kmaq rights to fish for a livelihood outside of federal control. And that corporate interests are circling closely, ready to profit from settler colonial violence, as always. 

As settlers and treaty beneficiaries, it makes sense to be outraged about what’s happening to Mi’kmaq fishers right now. The Peace and Friendship Treaties are clear that we need to show up to ensure that Mi’kmaq rights holders are safe and unhindered from exercising their fishing rights. We need to be clear as we call for a reckoning of the violent white supremacy on full display from aggrieved fishermen and our colonial governments. We need to call politicians, attend solidarity actions in our communities, and redistribute wealth and other resources to the Mi’kmaq fishers and folks taking care of them at the wharves (see end for resources).

I feel we are also being called to breathe deeply and to stay with this moment. Beyond the flashes of nervous system activation that accompany the latest livefeed from the wharf, or set of infuriating infographics circulating on social media. Beyond our sweaty outrage at the overt and violent acts of racism that we are seeing. Beyond this  “week of action.”

This has been an incredibly long haul for Mi’kmaq rights holders. We’re in a crucial moment that’s been a long time coming. But we’re still a long way from being able to even begin the repair of what remains an ongoing rupture.

Moving towards Peace and Friendship on these lands might mean that as settlers, we also need to slow down, just enough to wade into the deeper context, murky complexities, and yes- even the dreaded “nuance” of the situation unfolding right now in Southwest Nova Scotia. I’m afraid that if we don’t go deep, we might burn out. Or tune out. That we could be lulled into a sense that the violent white supremacy we are seeing playing out at the wharf (or on Parliament Hill) is something that is only happening “over there.” That we might fail to learn (or unlearn) something important. 

My ancestors began stealing the land and waters here when they arrived from Europe back in treaty-making times. I know that I have deep responsibilities to the Peace and Friendship Treaties to catch up on, even if I am still mostly unsure of what that means. One thing I am pretty sure of though- is that it includes dismantling settler colonialism, a.k.a. white supremacy. 

I’ve been struck lately by one of white supremacy’s more insidious mechanisms- the illusion of disentanglement. How whiteness allows some of us to opt out of the recognition that we are fully enmeshed in and with this world. It’s a dangerous kind of privilege for those of us who benefit (on the surface), as Ross Gay describes, to ”pretend the possibility of disentanglement.” This pretending, it seems to me, is the very opposite of Peace and Friendship. 

So I’ve been trying out a new practice. After firing off a heart-palpitation-fueled email to the Fisheries Minister, I take a minute to breathe deeply, to remember and feel the ways that I’m a part of this story too. Firstly, of course, I’m only here at all because of the ways that Mi’kmaq communities have cared for these lands and waters since time immemorial. 

But I’m also entangled more specifically with the inshore lobster fishery here. I grew up in a fishing community, and spent many years working on inshore fisheries issues. More to my point though- like every other settler living on these lands- my life is fully tangled up with Nova Scotia’s fragile economy. And of course, this economy was built upon and continues to depend on the very same colonial violence and white supremacy that aims to keep Mi’kmaq rights holders off the water. As Tim Bousquet observed the other day, “Racism IS the economy.”

Just as white supremacy continues to run the economy here, it also runs through our bodies. Not only through the nervous systems of the settlers who are throwing rocks and lighting boats on fire, or other settlers foisting their voices where they don’t belong ( ie. discussions about what Mi’kmaq treaty fishing “should” look like…)  But what if white supremacy is also what it feels like when our tense shoulders and tightening chests lead us to stay silent in face of these injustices, or to stand on a soapbox to point our fingers ever elsewhere?

Peace and Friendship here in Mi’kma’ki can only begin once Mi’kmaq fishers are able to fish for their livelihoods without hindrance. For settlers, though, I have a feeling that the path back into the circle has a few more twists and turns. That reckoning with entanglement is a healing process that pulls us through the deep currents of the historical context of what’s playing out today on these wharves and waters, through and beyond the murk of the “crown,” the RCMP,  and the colonial market economy, all the way back to our own complicit bodies, and our relationship to these lands and waters. That it includes not only standing firmly with Mi’kmaq rights holders to protect their fishing rights, but also the work of accepting that “we are entangled/ and to pretend that we’re not/ requires us to do the most horrific things.”

Sadie Beaton grew up in Guysborough County , aka Eskikewa‟kik district (skin dresser‟s territory) and she is grateful for smoked mackerel, salt fish cakes, kind friends, and all of the Mi’kmaq rights holders that continue to protect and shape the future of Mi’kma’ki.


● FRONTLINE AT SAULNIERVILLE WHARF: 1752frontline@gmail.com





Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan: Bernadette.Jordan@parl.gc.ca / 1 902 527-5655

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair: Bill.Blair@parl.gc.ca / 613-995-0284

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca / 613-992-4211

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil: stephenmcneil@ns.aliantzinc.ca/ (902) 825-2093

RCMP Nova Scotia: 1-800-803-7267 

DFO Yarmouth:  info@dfo-mpo.gc.ca/ 902-742-0870

***MORE RESOURCES (as updated regularly by Charlotte Connelly)

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