Controversy over a Treaty to Violent Conflict in Nova Scotia
By Thirandie Semage
November is the month dedicated to Treaty Awareness, which recognizes the
importance of treaties, with specific regards to the Indigenous Peoples. It is the
responsibility of both the Canadian government and individuals living in Canada to
honour the treaties that respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
However, even with the promises made by the government, Canada’s inability to
honour these treaties and protect the rights of Indigenous communities has been made
evident this last month.
The Nova Scotia fishing dispute brings to light the controversy that exists
surrounding the rights of First Nations. The fishing dispute involves two main parties:
the Indigenous Fisheries and non-Indigenous fisheries in Nova Scotia.
The controversy stems from the wording of the Peace and Friendship Treaties which
outlines that the Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia has the right to harvest and fish
to gain a “moderate livelihood” (Lao).
However, the meaning of “earning a moderate livelihood” has significantly evolved in
the last 250 years, and the ambiguity of this historical treaty has resulted in conflict about how much fish the Mi'kmaq can harvest today. The opening of an Indigenous fishery in
Nova Scotia is in accord with the federal constitution, however, it resulted in
mounting tensions in the province (Lao).
Non-indigenous fisheries showed backlash against the opening of an Indigenous
fishery and fishing outside of regulated seasons, claiming it was illegal and would
endanger the fishing environment (Montgomery).
An environmental regulation from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in
Canada restricts lobster fishing to certain seasons in order to protect the lobster
population. However, environmental experts shared their opinion, saying that the
additional fishing from Indigenous Fisheries would not harm the lobster population,
contradicting the opinions of commercial fishermen (Lao).
The opposition towards the Indigenous Fishery manifested into physical conflict,
leading to violent attacks against Indigenous fishermen.
One such case is Jason Marr, a Mi'kmaw fisherman who had to protect himself from
the crowd of people attempting to take his harvest of fish (Lao). Marr reported that
the response from the RCMP was also delayed and that the RCMP's suggestion
was to hand over the fishing haul to the mob. Other examples of the violent
responses included the burning of an Indigenous fishing pound and vandalism of
Indigenous property (Lao).
In order to resolve the fishing dispute, discussing and working with the Indigenous
community, instead of against them, to reach an agreement is the obvious solution.
With the ending of November, a month dedicated to honoring treaties, it seems that
Canada has much to reflect on and work on, in terms of its treatment towards Indigenous communities.
Lao, David. Mobs Are Attacking Indigenous Fisheries in Nova Scotia. Here's What's Going On. 20 Oct. 2020, globalnews.ca/news/7403001/nova-scotia-lobster-explained/.
Montgomery, Marc. “Lobster Dispute between Indigenous and Commercial Fishers Boils over, Again.” RCI, Radio Canada International, 22 Sept. 2020, www.rcinet.ca/en/2020/09/18/lobster-dispute-between-indigenous-and-commercial-fishers-boils-over-again/.
MacDonald, Michael. “Five Things to Know about the Dispute over Nova Scotia's Indigenous Lobster Fishery.” Atlantic, CTV News, 21 Oct. 2020, atlantic.ctvnews.ca/five-things-to-know-about-the-dispute-over-nova-scotia-s-indigenous-lobster-fishery-1.5153650.