Hands Off the Mi'kmaq Nation!

For more than a month Mi'kmaq fishers of the Sipekne'katik First Nation in Saulnierville, Nova Scotia have been subjected to brutal violence, arson and destruction of property for daring to assert their hereditary and treaty rights. Government officials from Trudeau on down -- the Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan and others -- blame everyone but themselves. They "condemn" the violence, stand aside while it happens, and wring their hands over Canadians being "racist," when in fact it is the Canadian state which is responsible and must be held accountable.

The Sipekne'katik affirmed their hereditary and treaty rights, in launching a self-regulated, sustainable lobster fishing enterprise on September 17. Eleven Indigenous fishers were awarded licences by the First Nation. The day their fishing enterprise started, federal Minister of Fisheries Bernadette Jordan declared the Mi'kmaq outlaws.

In a statement issued September 17, she acknowledged the Supreme Court's Marshall Decision, stating that "First Nations have an affirmed treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a 'moderate livelihood.'" But she did not say Canada would abide by the Court ruling. Rather she called on the Mi'kmaq "to find a collaborative path back to the negotiation table."

Until then, she said "there cannot be a commercial fishery outside the commercial season. ... Fishing without a licence is a violation under the Fisheries Act and anyone fishing outside the activities authorized under a licence may be subject to enforcement action."

In other words, the Sipekne'katik First Nation lobster fishery is illegal because the colonial racist state has not authorized it. The state declares the Mi'kmaq outlaws, making them fair game for violence against them.

This is the modus operandi of the Canadian state: violate hereditary and treaty rights and when Indigenous people affirm their rights, they are met with violence. Since 1990 alone, attacks include the police and military assault on the Mohawk of Kanesatake at Oka in 1990; the Shuswap people at Gustafsen Lake in 1995; the Ojibway of Stoney Point in Ontario in 1995; and earlier this year the Wet'suwet'en people in northern BC, when they asserted their sovereignty and opposed the Coastal GasLink pipeline being built on their territory.

Department of Fisheries Officers ram Mi'kmaq fishers' boat in Burnt Church, NB in 1999.

The Mi'kmaq people are no strangers to state-organized violence and racism either. Following the Marshall ruling in 1999, Mi'kmaq fishers of Esgenoopetitj First Nation (Burnt Church) in New Brunswick faced three years of threats, violence and arrests for asserting their treaty and inherent right to fish. At that time Canadians were outraged to see video footage of RCMP and Department of Fisheries and Oceans enforcement officers ramming Mi'kmaq fishers' boats and endangering their lives to "uphold the law."

A month ago, faced with attacks, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs declared a State of Emergency. The Trudeau government did not act to end the violence. RCMP officers stood by, watching and videotaping. Were they at the ready to intervene should Mi'kmaq resistance "turn violent"? That's what it looks like. The RCMP were quick to act with violence against the Wet'suwet'en on their own territory. The contrast is not lost on the Canadian people. 

The Mi'kmaq are not intimidated. Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne'katik First Nation and fishers of that community say they will continue to assert their rights. They say Canada has to not only recognize their rights but defend them. The resistance of the Sipekne'katik First Nation has inspired others such as the Membertou First Nation of Cape Breton Island to do the same.

The affirmation of their rights by Indigenous peoples has the broad support of the people of Canada and Quebec.

Canada -- Hands Off the Mi'kmaq Nation!
No to State-Organized Racist Violence!
End Colonial Injustice!
Uphold the Hereditary, Treaty and Constitutional Rights of Indigenous Peoples!

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 40 - October 24, 2020

Article Link:
Hands Off the Mi'kmaq Nation! - Philip Fernandez


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