First Nations fishers in southwest Nova Scotia received a show of support on Thursday from the Assembly of First Nation national chief and chiefs from across the region.
National Chief RoseAnne Archibald was in St. Mary’s Bay, hauling lobster traps alongside Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack.
Sack was arrested last month by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) officers for being “party to the offence of (an) unauthorized fishery,” but said his band members would continue to fish in St. Mary’s Bay whether Ottawa likes it or not.
“When I stand here today and watch the First Nations in this region exercising their inherent and treaty rights, to me, that is a light toward the future,” Archibald said.
They did so under the watchful eye of federal fisheries conservation officers. While it was a peaceful day on the water, it hasn’t always been the case.
Sack said the DFO has been seizing traps almost as fast as they’ve been set.
“It’s every day. They’re out there right now. I don’t know if you guys noticed the boats coming and it hasn’t stopped. It’s constant harassment, so hopefully today we can change that,” he said.
He confirmed he had made DFO aware of Thursday’s activities, which included an availability with news media.
“They were fully aware. They reconfirmed that they thought we weren’t allowed to fish,” he said.
“They had an opportunity to get a bunch of chiefs, a national chief and they chose not to.”
The Sipekne’katik First Nation argues that a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirming its members’ treaty right to fish allows them to harvest lobster year-round to earn a “moderate livelihood.”
But the court has also said the government can regulate that treaty right for conservation and other limited purposes. Federal regulation dictates that the area where the Sipekne’katik First Nation fishery is operating in southwestern Nova Scotia — LFA 34 — is open for lobster fishing from the last Monday in November until the end of May.
Last September, the band launched a self-regulated lobster fishery outside the federally regulated season, which led to violence and the burning of a lobster pound that stored Indigenous catch.
On Thursday, RCMP said in a news release that a 29-year-old man had been arrested and charged with arson in relation to the October 2020 fire. Another man had been previously arrested in July of this year.
Sack and other chiefs say they are counting on the federal government elected in this month’s election to recognize treaties, and uphold the Supreme Court’s decision allowing Indigenous fishers to fish for a moderate livelihood.
The band’s traps aren’t authorized under the Fisheries Act. And Noel d’Entremont with the Department of Fisheries told The Canadian Press last month that the federal agency will continue to remove the lobster traps and seize them as evidence.
The Assembly of First Nations has a list of election priorities, including promoting peace by respecting First Nation sovereignty and jurisdiction.
National Chief Archibald alleges Canada has made unfulfilled promises and apologies.
“It’s time for these promises to be made concrete through commitments to recognize, respect and promote First Nations rights,” she said.
— with a file from The Canadian Press
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