A B.C. First Nations council is condemning the racist and violent acts against Mi’kmaq lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia, demanding the federal government and police follow through on promises to protect their rights to a commercial harvest.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC), representing 14 First Nations with about 10,000 members along the west coast of Vancouver Island, also urged the general public to speak out against the crimes before any lives are lost.
“All Canadians should be astounded by these consistent acts of outright hate, racism, and violence,” NTC vice-president Mariah Charleson said. “We cannot allow this to be accepted and tolerated, all governments need to act immediately.”
NTC president, Judith Sayers, added the federal government’s and RCMP’s admission that systemic racism exists doesn’t equate to meaningful action to protect the fishermen.
The statement Oct. 19 follows a tense week in the Atlantic province where Indigenous leaders have accused RCMP of standing by while non-Indigenous protesters clashed with Sipekne’katik fishermen and vandalized property, destroyed and stole Indigenous-caught lobster and allegedly assaulted a Sipekne’katik chief. The destruction escalated over the weekend when an Indigenous-owned van and a lobster pound were set ablaze.
The Sipekne’katik are conducting a fishery outside of the federally regulated season based on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision for Indigenous fisherman Donald Marshall Jr, ruling East Coast Indigenous groups have the right to fish for a “moderate livelihood,” though a second ruling stated this was subject to federal regulation.
The NTC stated it is not up to protestors to decide when and how the Indigenous fishery occurs, adding no one should be afraid for their lives and safety will exercising their right to a living.
Canada’s Indigenous services minister, Marc Miller, condemned police for failing to properly protect the Mi’kmaq fishermen. But Public Safety Minister Bill Blair defended their ability to do their job and has approved a provincial request for more RCMP officers in the region to keep the peace.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, a member of the NTC, issued its own statement of support for the Indigenous fishermen today (Oct. 21), urging the federal government to immediately engage in a nation-to-nation dialogue with the Mi’kmaq to clearly define their rights under the Marshal decision.
“Two months ago we called Canada out on their “racist actions and tactics” used to hold our Taaqwiihak fishers and negotiations back,” Tla-o-qui-aht lead negotiator Francis Frank said. “The inaction by the RCMP and DFO just proves that racism is alive and well within Canada’s institutes and its’ deplorable and unacceptable.”
-with files from Canadian Press