For the past year I’ve been trying to learn about First Nations people in Canada. Some of my friends are from there. I’ve been especially interested in the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ struggles to stop a natural gas pipeline from being built through their beautiful lands. I’ve been impressed with the eloquence of the Indigenous youth. Youth who had sniper rifles aimed at them as they sat on their lands.
I always tried to check what I wrote in my blog posts with multiple sources. And yet I wasn’t always sure I got everything right.
More recently I have made connections with the Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC) that does the same kind of work as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) that I have worked with in multiple ways. CFSC closely follows what is going on with First Nations people.
As they say, the mistakes in what follows are mine. But I appreciate those at CFSC helping me find the sources they have recommended.
The current escalating tensions are in Nova Scotia, related to native fishing rights and respecting treaties.
A recent escalation of tensions in Nova Scotia resulted in an angry mob damaging two Indigenous (Mi’kmaw) lobster fishing facilities on October 16, 2020. One Mi’kmaw lobster fishing compound burnt to the ground.
(Ottawa, ON) – “This conflict has been steadily escalating for more than a month. It is time for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal government, and the provincial government to intervene before someone gets badly injured or, possibly, killed. This has never been a commercial disagreement, and the actions of non-Indigenous fishers are meant to harass and intimidate the First Nations with whom they share the waters and the resources within them.
“The Supreme Court of Canada made it amply clear in its Marshall decision that Indigenous peoples have a right to fish those waters, and First Nations should not be bullied off the water in this thuggish manner. We expect the federal government to ensure the safety of everyone in Canada and to bring to justice to anyone who threatens violence or deprives others of their rights to food and a modest income.”
“Continued inaction by the police, and the unwillingness of the federal government to intervene directly in this dispute, only serves to increase the risk of racial violence and damage to these communities, which could last for generations. Justice must be served, and this intimidation must end.”
The AFN is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Updates.
The IBA Denounces Domestic Terrorism Afflicted on Mi’kmaw Fisheries, and Calls Upon The Federal Government to Take Immediate Steps to Ensure The Safety of Mi’kmaw Fisheries in Mi’kma’ki
October 16, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OTTAWA – The Indigenous Bar Association (IBA) in Canada denounces the attack by non-Indigenous fishermen on Mi’kmaw harvesters providing a livelihood and food for their families and community in Mi’kma’ki (what is currently known as Nova Scotia).
The recent violent and disturbing acts of terrorism are directly linked to the federal governments’ failure to uphold the Peace and Friendship Treaties and implement the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decisions in R. v. Marshall. This harmful deterioration of the relationship between the Crown and the Mi’kmaw in the region is compounded by the RCMP’s inaction during the attacks.
The IBA stands in solidarity with the Mi’kmaw. As sovereign nations, they have been negotiating with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for a Mik’maw-managed fishery. The ongoing violence experienced by the Mi’kmaw highlights a reluctance to respect Treaties and obey laws around Mi’kmaw fishing rights, on the part of non-Indigenous businesses and people. Treaty rights are a part of the constitutional fabric of Canada. Canada is a party to the Peace and Friendship Treaties, and a partner with the Mi’kmaw in Confederation. As such, the federal government is obligated to respect the rights embedded within those Treaties, Canadian law. They must enforce the terms of the Treaties by immediately de- escalating tensions between non-Indigenous businesses and Mi’kmaw providers.
The RCMP also has a responsibility to act and de-escalate tension but, IBA President Drew Lafond says “they have once again been unresponsive to the terrorism and violence inflicted upon the Mi’kmaw.”
“As seen far too many times in the last year—and as was also an issue when violence erupted against the Mi’kmaw following the Marshall decision—the RCMP is quick to act against Indigenous people, but slow to step forward and protect Indigenous lives, property or livelihoods,” said IBA President Drew Lafond.
“This inaction undermines any trust that Indigenous peoples have on the RCMP as an institution. It further calls into question their statements and commitment to combating systemic racism within their ranks, and the justice system at large. The RCMP must do better, before this senseless violence creates even more losses for the Mi’kmaw”
The situation unfolding in Mi’kma’ki evokes events earlier this year on Wet’suwet’en Territory, when the RCMP failed to take decisive action to uphold the rule of law. Instead of protecting the right of the Wet’suwet’en to protect their territories, police led a shocking tear-down reconciliation in a moment that will not be forgotten by Indigenous Peoples for generations.
The rule of law, a foundational principle in Canada, means the law applies equally to everyone and no one is above it. The facts of this week’s attack on Mi’kmaw fisheries and their livelihoods shows the one-sided nature of how the rule of law is being upheld and enforced around Indigenous nations in Canada today.
“The unlawful use of violent tactics to coerce, intimidate and pressure the Mi’kmaw providers is boldfaced terrorism, plain and simple. The IBA wholly supports the Sipekne’katik First Nation and other Mi’kmaw in
their fight against unlawful violence. “We offer our support to the Nation in any efforts of peaceful conciliation that they may deem fit,” Lafond furthered.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has already found that the Mi’kmaw have the right to a moderate livelihood in Mi’kma’ki fisheries. Why are we still having this conversation? Over twenty years after the conclusive decision in Marshall, why is implementation and exercise of rights that have been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada still a live issue? Again, this calls into question Canada’s willingness to deliver on its promises under Treaty or act to uphold the honour of the Crown.”
The IBA is a national non-profit association comprised of Indigenous lawyers (practicing and non- practicing), legal academics and scholars, articling clerks and law students, including graduate and post- graduate law students. Our mandate is to promote the advancement of legal and social justice for Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the reform of laws and policies affecting Indigenous Peoples
Trudeau defended his government by indicating that it approved additional resources to increase the police presence in the region over the weekend and pledged to work with both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to come up with a resolution.
“We need to have an approach that doesn’t just recognize inherent treaty rights, but implements their spirit and intent,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we will work with commercial fishers and the Canadians to ensure that this is done fairly. I understand that this is challenging, but this isn’t an inconvenience, but an obligation. If we are truly to be the country that we like to think of ourselves as, this is the road we must walk.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, questioned if the same inaction would be allowed to continue if it had been against a non-Indigenous community and called for immediate action in the matter.
“We want answers today. We want commitments today,” he said. “This is an emergency because … there is a real threat that this violence will escalate and people will lose their lives and that cannot happen and so we need immediate action right now.”
Among the issues under dispute is the Indigenous people’s right to make a “moderate livelihood” and to fish outside the federally-determined fishing season, rights established in treaties hundreds of years ago and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1999. Some non-Indigenous critics have pointed to a clarification issued by the court that said the rights were to be subject to federal regulations as proof the rights may be reinterpreted.‘We want answers’: MPs hold emergency debate over handling of N.S. lobster dispute by Ben Cousins and Jonathan Forani, CTVNews.ca, Oct. 19, 2020
“The reckless violence and the racist threats that we have seen do nothing to bring us closer to a resolution. They only serve to divide us,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, adding that RCMP are reviewing a variety of video evidence of violence and that people will be held accountable.
“The violence must come to an end now. It is the only way to give us all an opportunity to find a peaceful, lasting solution.”
Among the issues under dispute is the Indigenous people’s right to make a “moderate livelihood” and to fish outside the federally-determined fishing season, rights established in treaties hundreds of years ago and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1999. Some non-Indigenous critics have pointed to a clarification issued by the court that said the rights were to be subject to federal regulations as proof the rights may be reinterpreted.
On Sunday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the federal government must define “moderate livelihood” as it relates to an Indigenous fishery, but ministers on Monday were hesitant to agree. Asked if the government would take responsibility for not defining “moderate livelihood” and concede that the clause may have led to the current dispute, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan said definitions need to be defined at the negotiating table.
“I don’t think any First Nation wants the federal government to have a top-down approach,” she said, adding there is “no excuse” for the violence. “We cannot, as a government, tell First Nations what a moderate living is. That is up to them to work with us to define.”
CTV News commentator and former Grand Chief for Northern Manitoba Sheila North agreed that the definition is up to the Indigenous people, not the government. North linked what she called repeated rights denials across the country to systemic economic and health issues experienced by Indigenous people, including vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hunting and livelihoods are at the heart of it. Indigenous people have been denied these rights for many generations. That’s why a lot of people are sick, that’s why we keep calling Indigenous people and communities the most vulnerable during this pandemic time, because they haven’t been given the right and access to live out what they have a treaty right to, living off the land and supporting their families through these practices that have been there for many, many generations,” she said.‘The violence must come to an end now’: Ministers call for peaceful end to N.S. fishing dispute. Federal ministers condemned acts of violence against Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia and called Monday for a peaceful end to the dispute with commercial fishermen. JONATHAN FORANI, CTVNEWS.CA, OCT 19, 2020