My heart is hurting. The type of hurt that cuts deep down into your being. A hurt that can only come from betrayal and trauma. My people are under attack. It is 2020 and blatant overt racist attacks are happening out in the open for the world to see….and the world (or at least those in power) are turning a blind eye. The lack of action and protection sends a clear message: Indigenous lives don’t matter, Indigenous rights don’t matter, Indigenous property doesn't matter, and Indigenous livelihoods don’t matter.
I am an empathetic person. I care about all creatures and all people. So when I see such hate towards one race it really makes me wonder….what, as Indigenous people, have we done to make you hate us so? How could we possibly deserve over 500 years of violence, hate and mistreatment, when our only crime was living here first?
Who are the Mi'kmaq?
We are the Indigenous people to this area, meaning we were the first people here. We have been here for more than 13, 500 years. We were here long before this land was called Canada, and we are still here! Our territory (Mi’kma’ki) includes Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, North of the Saint John River in New Brusnwick, the Gaspe of Quebec, and part of the state of Maine and part of Newfoundland.
Mi’kma’ki is the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet people first signed with the British crown in 1752.
Unceded means that the Mi’kmaq never signed over or gave up their lands to the British people.
We did however agree to share our land and allow settlers to live here in peace and friendship. This same Treaty states that “It is agreed that the said Tribe of Indians shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting and Fishing as usual…”
The Marshall Decision
In 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada released the Donald Marshall Decision. Donald Marshall Jr. was arrested for fishing and selling eels out of season and without a license. The 1760-61 Treaties ensured that the Mi’kmaq have the right to sell, barter and trade at truck houses which were not run by the British at that time. This is the right that Donald Marshall asserted when he fought and won his case. The courts recognized and upheld this right, but created the term “Moderate Livelihood” so that the Mi’kmaq were allowed to make money when exercising these rights, but not allowed to get rich. Even after 21 years they have still failed to define what a moderate livelihood is, have failed to implement the Marshall Decision, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not reflected the right to a Moderate Livelihood in their regulations.
Saulnierville, Nova Scotia
Which brings us to the current situation in Saulneirville. Sipekne’katik First Nation just launched its own self-regulated fishery last month. It issued 7 licenses for 50 traps each. That is a total of 350 traps. The commercial fishery in the area has tags for up to 390,000 traps. These commercial licenses are mainly owned by non-Indigenous fishers. The commercial fishers are regulated by DFO and their fishing is confined to specific times or a “fishing season.” Acadian commercial fishers are coming from communities around southwestern Nova Scotia to “protest” the start of the first Indigenous run fishery (which started outside their own DFO regulated fishing season).
Conservation was used as the argument at the beginning of these protests, despite Indigenous traps only making up less than 0.0009% of the traps in the area, and despite marine experts saying that the Mi'kmaq fishery is not a threat to the lobster stock. The escalation of these protests quickly unveiled the truth behind them though.
This is RACISM.
I believe people are allowed to disagree on whether or not the Mi'kmaq fishery should exist. I even believe they have the right to protest. But what I do not believe to be right is using their power and privilege to intimidate, to harm, to harass, to sabotage, to hurl racial slurs and insults, to threaten, to destroy and damage property. That is never right!
The Mi’kmaq people always had good relations with the Acadians. We lived in peace for over 500 years and were always allies. We recently flew their flag at our powwow that we held on Treaty Day at the same warf in Saulnierville where these protests are taking place. It makes me so sad and disheartened that it has come to this.
The “protests” started with hundreds of non-Indigenous fishers surrounding the few Indigenous boats that went to set their traps on the first day of the fishery. They tried to ram these small boats and shot flares at them. DFO stood by and did not intervene. The Indigenous fishers had their lines cut, traps stolen, and property damaged. Indigenous fishers were denied services in the area such as gas for their boats, food, and hotel rooms. An Indigenous owned boat that was docked for repairs was completely destroyed by a "suspicious" fire.
Recently two Indigenous Fishers were trapped inside a lobster pound when they were surrounded by a mob of hundreds of non-Indigenous Fishers who demanded they turn over their lobster catch to them or they would burn the plant down with them inside. It took over 2 hours for RCMP to show up after the 911 calls by the trapped individuals, and despite multiple videos of this violence being caught on tape, no arrests were made. Instead the RCMP urged the Indigenous fishers to just hand over their lobster. That same night thousands of pounds of lobster were stolen then killed with paint thinner and other chemicals, and left to rot outside the pound. A van was burnt and another vehicle was damaged.
Last night the lobster pound that the Indigenous Fishers sold their lobster to was burnt to the ground. I have heard reports there is someone in hospital with substantial injuries but it has not been made known yet who was injured.
The real issue at hand
Make no mistake, this is not about conservation, this is about power and this is about hate. Full stop.
And it makes me wonder, why is this hate still alive and well today? Have we not suffered enough? Do Canadians really know what we have been forced to endure as a Native people over the last 500 years right up until modern day? It has never stopped....we have never been given the grace or opportunity to heal from the constant traumas against our people. One wound on top of another. And then to make matters worse we are ridiculed because we are “not over it.” Ridiculed because we are poor and do not “work for a living” but when we try and make an honest living (like fishing) this is the opposition we are met with.
If only they knew the REAL US. The Mi’kmaq people are peaceful, they are kind, they are funny AF, they are knowledgeable, and they are so strong and resilient. They choose peace over violence despite being treated as less than human time and time again. We show up to the front lines of these confrontations with feathers, drums, and song. When we are the protesters we are met with SWAT teams, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, guns and dogs. But when we are the victims, there is no action taken. We simply want to be treated as equal human beings. We want to reclaim our independence, our livelihoods, our culture and our peace.
Our history is too much to cover here in this blog...
I plan on writing a second blog to follow this one with more detail on the specific traumas and struggles that Indigenous People have endured. The things you will never learn in school. Here in Canada our education system is severely lacking. To not share the many ugly truths of our history is manipulation. The general lack of knowledge creates ignorance and misunderstanding, which I believe is often the root of such hate.
What the Indigenous people endured IS Canada’s history, which means it is ALL OF OUR HISTORY. We are also ALL TREATY PEOPLE. These legal documents were signed by both sides, therefore we are all bound by these agreements, and we all should understand what they mean for us as Canadians.
My humble plea
As Canadians we are known as kind and helpful people, especially in the Maritimes. So I plead: let's show the world that the actions of these Acadian fishers are not who we are. Let's do better. Let's make them accountable for their actions. Let's educate ourselves and do everything we can to advocate for the protection of the Mi'kmaq and a peaceful resolution to this matter.
In closing I also would like to say thank you to all the non-Indigenous allies who have been fighting to help this atrocity stop. We see you, we appreciate you so much! I have seen many friends, family, and strangers going so hard to help advocate for us. ❤️
Welalin (Thank you) 🙏🏽