Indigenous Committee releases statement in solidarity with Mi’kmaq fishers

The Indigenous Committee issued a statement in solidarity with Mi’kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia earlier in September.

Non-Indigenous fishers condemned the new self-regulated lobster fishery the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched September 17 in Saulnierville, NS. They expressed concern that Mi’kmaq fishers wishing to harvest outside of the federally determined fishing season would harm the ecosystem.

CBC reported that non-Indigenous fishers removed Mi’kmaq fishing gear from the area and allegedly cut Indigenous trap lines, saying the Indigenous fishery is illegal because it is not sanctioned by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The Indigenous Committee, an extraordinary committee of the AMS, said it supported Mi’kmaq in a statement denouncing the “racist backlash and violence from non-Indigenous fishermen.”

“Despite the vast inequalities and limitations that exist within these rights, Mi’kmaq people exercising their rights to fish have been persecuted by non-Indigenous fishermen,” the statement said.

The committee called on the broader UBC community to support Mi’kmaq by contacting the RCMP, DFO and the Nova Scotia premier, as well as by donating to the cause.

In an emailed statement, committee Co-presidents Ceilidh Smith and Chalaya Moonias said the statement supports the committee’s mandate.

“The Indigenous Committee decided to release that statement as we believe it is important to address any and all issues of colonial violence and systemic racism where we can,” they said.

“Since our mandate is to support Indigenous students, and we know that our students are impacted by acts of violence and racism across Turtle Island, we thought it would be important to provide the UBC community with our statement of solidarity as well as resources for further action.”

What is a ‘moderate livelihood’?

The statement mentions 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty that recognizes the Mi’kmaq people’s right to act on their own land and earn a “moderate livelihood” from fishing. The treaty, pronounced by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999, is also known as the Marshall decision.

According to UBC anthropology Professor Charles Menzies, the DFO never upheld the moderate livelihood provision since the court’s decision two decades ago.“[The] DFO has simply refused to actually come around to putting an efficient plan on the ground,” he said. “And part of what’s happening is, of course, the non-Indigenous fishermen are totally opposed to any new what they call a new entrant.”

He added that Indigenous fishers have attempted to negotiate with the DFO, but the DFO hasn’t determined a solution, leaving the rights of Indigenous fishers unprotected.

“They say we want everyone to come fish together, whereas the Indigenous right to fishery isn’t about our right to participate in the regular commercial fisheries,” Menzies said.

“It’s the right to have an Indigenous fishery, which doesn’t preclude the possibility that Indigenous fishermen could fish both in the Indigenous fishery and in the Crown-regulated fishery.”

There is not yet a clear definition for moderate livelihood, CTV News reported. Despite several attempts, Menzies said, moderate livelihood was never defined because the DFO rejected every proposal, which he said speaks to the racialized nature of the concerns. Opponents have taken the environmental approach to avoid addressing racial divides.

“Using the discourse of ecology and morality is simply a way to avoid being explicit about the racial divisions, because they recognize that doesn’t really win the game.”

This article and its headline were updated to reflect the name of the Indigenous Committee as an extraordinary committee of the AMS.