The chief of Sipeknet’katik First Nation says a work van was set on fire and lobster was destroyed when a crowd of commercial fishermen vandalized a fishing compound in southwestern Nova Scotia on Tuesday.
The incidents, the latest in continuing tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia, allegedly occurred at two locations, one in West Pubnico, N.S., and the other in New Edinburgh, N.S.
On Tuesday night, Chief Michael Sack of Sipekne’katik First Nation alleges the facility in New Edinburgh was “swarmed and vandalized” by commercial fishermen.
Sack claimed the commercial fishers removed and damaged video cameras at the facility and ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.
The incidents occurred after a protest by the commercial fishers in nearby Digby, N.S.
“This act of vigilantism now affects Sipekne’katik’s ability to sell its licensed fishery lobster to promote prosperity within our community and is a direct attempt to force us out of the very market we have been a part of for years,” Sack said in a press release.
Police and RCMP were notified of the incident but Sack said the non-Indigenous commercial fishers remained at the scene.
He said he’s not sure if anyone has been or will be charged in connection with the incidents. RCMP have yet to respond to a request for comment on the incident on Tuesday night.
“With nothing captured on camera we’re not sure if anyone can be charged or was taken into custody for the damage that was caused, but we know this is retaliation for our efforts to move the Moderate Livelihood Fishery forward,” Sack said in the statement.
Indigenous lobster traps removed from Nova Scotia waters
The Mi’kmaw fishermen Sack says were targeted on Tuesday hold a “buyers licence” — which allows individuals to purchase fish directly from fishers for the purpose of resale or processing — as part of the Sipken’katik First Nation communal fishery.
The first nation operates a commercial fishery for the benefit of the community but also provides for a “moderate livelihood fishery” so individuals can provide for themselves.
When Tuesday’s confrontation began, other members of the Sipeknet’katik First Nation arrived at the scene after being contacted by the buyer.
Video posted on Facebook shows heated confrontations between supporters and commercial fishermen at both locations.
At one point a van at the incident in West Pubnico can be seen on fire with RCMP officers rushing to put it out.
The standoff continued into the early hours of Wednesday.
“Our community members are understandably very upset; we all know this is an act of systemic racism that is not only terrorizing our people but will also drastically impact our community member’s income this year and potentially our future prosperity,” Sack said.
The Sipken’katik First Nation’s communal fishery was licensed in 2005 by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) as part of a contribution agreement. The licence permits the Mi’kmaq fishery to “much needed” community resources, Sack said.
“This incident hopefully can further draw the distinction for everyone that the communal fishery revenue has always globally come back to the community and the moderate livelihood fishery is solely aimed at allowing our community members to make a living as individuals,” Sack said.
The Sipeknet’katik First Nation launched its Indigenous-run moderate livelihood lobster fishery in September to mark the 21st anniversary of the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada’s Marshall decision, which affirms treaty rights to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood.”
Sipekne’katik First Nation fishermen say their right to fish denied
The establishment of the fishery has been met by fierce and heated opposition by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen. They say that the First Nation has no right to launch its own commercial fishery because the fishing season is now closed.
The Marshall decision put no seasonal limits on the treaty rights, though it allows Ottawa to set regulations in consultation with Indigenous communities and for the purpose of conservation.
But with no agreement in place with the DFO in the 21 years since the Marshall decision came down, the Sipeknet’katik First Nation launched the self-regulated fishery.
Ottawa summoned by Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen in N.S. to settle dispute
Emergency meeting to follow
Sack said that damage to the facility is still being assessed but that it has the potential to “be a substantial hit to our bottom line particularly since we are harvesting right now.”
Sack and Sipken’katik First Nation council were to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning to determine the path forward as the investigation into the incident continues.
They are also seeking legal counsel on how to proceed with action against the “commercial fishery as a whole,” Sack said.
The Sipken’katik First Nation is also set to meet with DFO representatives later on Wednesday to discuss its fishery management plan as well as a potential joint conservation study.
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