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Stop violating Mi’kmaw treaty rights, rally tells DFO

Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Tired of harassment by Department of Fisheries (FDO) officers and tired of both the federal and provincial governments refusal to recognize treaty rights and court decisions, some 50 Mi’kmaw fishers and their allies rallied at the entrance to the DFO offices in Dartmouth.

In August nine Mi’kmaw fishing boats had their lines cut by vigilantes, and fishers have been subjected to DFO hauling their traps and an increased surveyance by police and DFO officers altogether, clearly aiming to intimidate them. Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne’katik First Nation has been arrested, and DFO even handcuffed a 14-year old boy after it boarded a Mi’kmaw vessel. 

Matthew Cope, photo Robert Devet

Matthew Cope is a fisher from Millbrook First Nation. He faces changes for fishing out of season and selling the catch. He’s confident that when all is said and done treaty rights will win the day.

“It’s insulting that I even have to stand in front of a judge.We’re being vilified and criminalized for doing something that our treaties allow us to do. We’ve been living up to our end of these treaties, but Canadian governments haven’t been living up to their end,” Cope said.

“I can’t wait for my day in the Supreme Court of Canada, there’s going to be some fireworks. And I want compensation for every single day that my traps are out of the water,” he said.

Cope is right, of course. The Mi’kmaq people have always had the right to conduct their moderate livelihood fisheries, and these rights have been recognized and protected by a variety of decisions by the Supreme Court.

In these decisions the onus is put on the federal government to prove that regulation is justified for reasons having to do with conservation. The feds have never even tried to make that case, likely because the Mi’kmaq are doing a fine job regulating themselves, and anyways, their harvest is minuscule compared to what commercial fishers pull in. A concern that soft shell lobsters are being taken has also been found to be unwarranted.

Melanie Peter-Paul. Photo Robert Devet

Melanie Peter-Paul, from Sipekne’katik First Nation, elaborated on the significance of treaties to the Mi’kmaq people.   

“A recently reelected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there’s no relationship more important to Canada than the relationship with the indigenous peoples. Yet, the Mikmaq in Nova Scotia are once again, fighting for our right to fish. Last Friday, September 17, it was 22 years since the Marshal decision, 22 years since the Supreme Court affirmed the Mi’kmaw treaty right to fish. Yet this government agency, the DFO, stifles any progress in reconciliation with this province, as they continue to defy treaties, which are the very foundation of this country,”said Peter-Paul. 

“The 1752 Treaty states that we have a right not to be hindered from and have free liberty to hunt and fish as usual, and to sell the skins, feathers, fowl or fish or any other goods. This tells me that the current fish buyers licencing and enforcement regulations are in direct violation of the 1752 Treaty and the Constitution, section 35. Mi’kmaw fishers should be free to legally sell their lobster or any other goods without harassment from the DFO or vigilante fishermen,” she said.

Noah Johnson, a lobster fisher from Potlotek First Nation, offered a glimpse of what DFO prosecution at sea looks like.

“DFO and the Coast Guard are working hand in hand. They’re out there 24 hours a day, blocking our boats from being able to retrieve our gear. They work as one boarding our boats aggressively. We’re not safe from the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia, who criminalize our treaties. They make it impossible for us to hunt, to fish, or to harvest,” Johnson said.

See also: Time once again to support the Mi’kmaw fishers

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