Photo Credit: Amauri Meija via Unsplash

 

Currently, in central and southern Nova Scotia, a massive dispute between Mi’kmaq and settler lobster fishermen is raging on.

 

This shouldn’t be news to most of us; if you follow the news you likely have seen at least a headline related to these disputes, but you may not have given the issue the time of day. Well, now is as good of a time as any to take your head out of the sand and learn about what is going on.

 

Local settler fisheries and fishermen have been using violence and intimidation to try and stop the Mi’kmaq from fishing for lobster in the area, despite having constitutionally-protected treaty rights that allow them to do so.

 

There have been many claims of fake concern, such as the sustainability of their lobster fishing practices and the fact that they are fishing out of season; but these don’t stand up to even the slightest level of scrutiny. The fact of the matter is, these violent outbursts against the Mi’kmaq are only one thing; an example of blatant, systemic racism.

 

It might have been one thing if concerns were raised by settler fishermen through appropriate channels. While they still would have been wrong, at least the situation could have remained civil. However, civil is the last word that you can use to describe their conduct. 

 

The Mi’kmaq have been targets of vandalism, physical assault, arson attacks on their boats, the destruction of lobster traps and more (and these are only examples from the last little while). 

 

Violence and arson attacks perpetrated by settler fishermen against the Mi’kmaq have been reported in New Edinburgh, Middle West Pubnico and Sipekne’katik. 

 

A lobster storage facility was attacked in New Edinburgh, as was the Sipekne’katik Chief. In Middle West Pubnico, a mob of hundreds of people stormed another lobster storage pound used by Mi’kmaq fishermen. They locked the Mi’kmaq fishermen inside, destroyed their property and even, most interestingly of all, threw all of their lobster out onto the ground. That’s an interesting response if this is a matter of ‘sustainable fishing practices’ if you ask me.

 

The response from the RCMP to all of this has been incredibly lacklustre, as video was released showing the RCMP simply standing down as the vandalism raged on. And the government’s response? At least so far, it appears that they only want to send in more police, because that makes a ton of sense. Unless they’re actually going to do their job, then they might as well stay home.

 

There was an emergency meeting in Parliament about the issue, called by the NDP and a handful of Liberal cabinet ministers, that didn’t necessarily provide any concrete steps forward, but was a great opportunity to bring it into the national spotlight and conversation.

 

One person I do want to commend for their comments during the debate (albeit reservedly so) is new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. I’m no fan of Mr. O’Toole or the Conservatives generally speaking, but he was right to point out that the government has simply been watching tensions rise in the region for several months without doing anything about it. That really was right on the money. 

 

Now, I say ‘reservedly’ simply because of the Conservative party’s terrible record, at various levels of government, on Indigenous issues. So it’s not to say I think they would have handled this any better or even that this is genuine coming from O’Toole, but I do want to give credit where it is due because it was a spot on comment and it was good politics. 

 

Trudeau rightfully condemned the attacks, but was sure not to promise any other substantial action on the issue. The Minister of Fisheries, Bernadette Jordan, has since announced that a special representative will be appointed to act as a liaison between the Mi’kmaq and settler fishermen, but this really misses the mark.

 

This assumes that the attackers have a leg to stand on in this argument, but they simply don’t. Research from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia has shown that the Mi’kmaq fisheries do not have an impact on the sustainability of the lobster population in the area. Additionally, the rights of the Mi’kmaq to fish out of season has been settled by the Supreme Court of Canada over 20 years ago. This won’t be fixed by ‘talking it out,’ the government simply has to step up and protect the Mi’kmaq from the settler fishermen and enforce their treaty rights. 

 

Having let the situation go on as long as they have may only serve to embolden other groups of people across the country to ‘fight back’ against Indigenous people who exercise their rights. Like here in Niagara for example, what’s to stop the racist protestors who line up at Short Hills at the start of the Haudenosaunee deer harvest from becoming violent this year now that we’ve seen the police do nothing to intervene in similar instances?

 

Clearly, this situation has gotten out of control and for that, the buck stops at the federal government. Obviously, the first people we can blame are the ignorant, racist lobster fishermen who have been perpetrating these violent acts. Thankfully, some have already been arrested and hopefully more will follow. But the fact that the Liberal’s have been sitting on this for months and still seem to have no real solution to offer is worrisome.