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Musqueam chief supports rights of Mi’kmaq fishers, condemns feds for 'ongoing failure' in Nova Scotia

Last Updated Oct 19, 2020 at 7:22 am PDT

FILE -- Members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Summary

The chief of the Musqueam Nation has pened an open letter to the Mi'kmaq people in support of their right to fish

Since a Mi’kmaq fishery opened in September, there have been attacks on it from non-Indigenous fishers

A lobster pound in Nova Scotia was burned to the ground early Saturday, destroying the lobster catch of Mi’kmaq fishers

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow has sent a letter of support to Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack and the Mi’kmaq people amid ongoing, violent attacks on an Indigenous lobster fishery in Nova Scotia.

Sparrow says his Nation has faced similar struggles, including bringing a landmark case establishing Indigenous fishing rights at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990

“I watched it on the news, we talked about it at our fisheries commission and said, ‘We had to give a letter of support given that we know exactly what they’re going through,” he says.

“A lot of the First Nations all across this country have all of the same issues. It’s frustrating.”

Sparrow condemns the “ongoing failure” of the federal government to uphold hard-won rights established through court cases.

“The Prime Minister mentions and says the most important relationships with Indigenous people, and he’s got to stop talking about it and start taking some action about it,” he says.

“It’s really hard to explain the frustration that we have with the lack of action from the government. Our family across the other side of the country they have a right for a moderate living and they have to go through these fights just to put food n the table. They won in the courts and then they have to go through this.”

Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia are conducting a fishery outside of the federally regulated season, asserting a treaty right to a self-regulated Indigenous fishery in the province. A 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled East Coast Indigenous groups have the right to fish for a “moderate livelihood.”

Since the Mi’kmaq fishery opened in September, there have been attacks on it from non-Indigenous fishers. Traps have been hauled from the sea by non-Indigenous harvesters, and a boat belonging to a Mi’kmaq fisherman was burned at a wharf.

A lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., was burned to the ground early Saturday, destroying the lobster catch of Mi’kmaq fishers.

Earlier in the week, two clashes involving hundreds of people took place outside lobster pounds that store Indigenous-caught lobster.

The Mounties have made two arrests in relation to the incidents, with one man charged with assault against a local Indigenous chief and another man charged with arson.

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Sparrow’s letter states a number of demands.

“Musqueam calls on the Prime Minister, the Government of Nova Scotia and the RCMP to do what is necessary to bring the people responsible to justice, to work with you and the Mi’kmaq people, and to dedicate the necessary resources to address this issue and safeguard everyone in the region. Further, Musqueam calls on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to stop indirectly facilitating conflicts and acts of violence by its own inaction.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil issued a statement on Twitter Sunday saying the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to answer the question of what a “moderate livelihood” looks like before the province can examine its own rules for fish buyers. He says Nova Scotia’s regulations rely on the federal department’s authority and responsibility to manage the fishery and identify what constitutes legal, licenced fisheries. McNeil says the province is working with Ottawa to find a facilitator to “bring the sides together,” adding that the way to resolve the issue is through respectful dialogue.

With files from the Canadian Press and Paul James