Treaty 8 Grand Chief calls for federal intervention to end Mi’kmaq fishery dispute

FORT MCMURRAY, ALTA. — The Grand Chief of Treaty 8 says the ongoing fishing dispute in Nova Scotia could be a turning point for Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities as he called on the federal government to end the conflict.

In a press conference on Oct. 22, Grand Chief Arthur Noskey called on Ottawa to address threats, attacks and discrimination faced by Mi’kmaw fishers that began escalating last month. He also called on Governor General Julie Payette and the provinces’ Lietuenant Governors to meet with treaty partners to make sure obligations are being met.

“Why is it always the case the First nations can’t count on the Treaty partner to uphold their end of the Treaty relationship?” said Noskey. “The `Honour of the Crown’ has to mean something.”

Treaty 8 First Nations include the Athabaca Chipewyan, Mikisew Cree, Fort McKay, Chipewyan Praire and Fort McMurray #468 First Nations. Chief Allan Adam of ACFN gave his support to the Mi’kmaq fishers in a Sept. 22 statement.

“We are deeply disturbed by the events taking place in Nova Scotia as Indigenous people exercise their right to harvest,” said Adam. “The treaty rights we hold as First Nations are not negotiable; they are enshrined in law.”

Noskey also accused the Alberta government of violating treaty rights. He argued Bill 22, which would give the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) sole judgement on an industrial project’s impacts on Indigenous treaty and cultural rights, would hurt the province’s relationship with First Nations.

He called on representatives from forestry, oil and gas industries to meet with Indigenous communities and discuss long-term solutions that would avoid disputes.

“There’s a lot of families in Alberta that have a dependence on oil and gas,” said Noskey. “But what keeps getting undermined is the impact it has on First Nations, their culture, traditions and way of life.”

The roots of the current conflict between Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia are centuries old.

Under treaties dating back to 1725 and 1779, the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia have guaranteed hunting, fishing and land-use rights. A 1999 Supreme Court ruling found Mi’kmaq were justified in selling fish and hunting to support a “moderate livelihood.” The ruling did not define a moderate livelihood, though.

In September, the Mi’kmaq opened a lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay that triggered protests and violence from non-Indigenous fishers.

Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association, told Postmedia the Sipekne’katnik fishery is illegal and harms the lobster population. He also told The Canadian Press the lobster-fishing season in St. Marys Bay begins on the last Monday of November to let the animals reproduce.

“St. Marys is an incredibly important lobster spawning ground, where lobsters conduct their reproductive life cycle through the summertime and that spawning ground is being destroyed,” he told Postmedia.

Others have argued the fishery is a large-scale commercial operation exceeding what is considered a moderate livelihood.

Mi’kmaw fishers argue they are not an economic threat, pointing out they have 500 licensed traps compared to the almost 35,000 commercially licensed traps in St. Marys Bay.

The dispute escalated on Sept. 20 when 350 Mi’kmaq lobster traps were cut. Angry mobs have since torched a Mi’kmaw van and barricaded Mi’kmaw fishers inside a lobster compound. A lobster pound was also torched, with the cause still being investigated. Chief Michael Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation was assaulted on Oct. 14.

“I think something is going to resonate where it will either be detrimental across Canada or it will enhance the relationship between sovereign nations that have entered into treaty,” said Noskey.

-With files from The Canadian Press, Ryan Tumilpy and Bianca Bharti

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