There were duelling demonstrations in Nova Scotia Saturday, with both sides in the ongoing Saulnierville fisheries dispute making their voices heard.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Halifax waterfront Saturday morning in a display of solidarity with Mi’kmaq fishers who have been accused of illegally harvesting lobster.
“We build relationships with the people who are here to support us, and an understanding of what our treaties are,” says Dorene Bernard, a Mi’kmaw Grandmother. “It’s a sacred covenant of our relationship between the non-native people and the Mi’kmaq here in Mi’kma’ki.”
Supporters say treaties give Mi’kmaq fishers the right to fish outside those boundaries to maintain a moderate livelihood, which was affirmed 21 years ago by the Supreme Court of Canada.
“It’s our birthright, it’s not a privilege,” added Mi’kmaw water protector Michelle Paul. “It’s a birthright for us to have access to feed ourselves, and not just survive, but thrive.”
At the same time as the rally in Halifax, hundreds of fishermen and their families gathered in Meteghan, N.S. to show their support for the commercial lobster fishing industry.
On Thursday, CTV Atlantic spoke off-camera to a commercial fisherman who said a public relations firm had instructed them not to speak to media at this time.
Calls to the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association were not returned on Saturday.
On Sept. 17, 1999, the court decided Donald Marshall Jr. had a treaty right to fish for eels when and where he wanted — without a license, a law that falls under the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty.
The Marshall decision also said the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy bands in Eastern Canada could hunt, fish and gather to earn a “moderate livelihood.”
However, the court followed up with a clarification two months later, saying the treaty right was subject to federal regulation.
Last weekend about 350 lobster traps in St. Mary’s Bay were allegedly removed by non-Indigenous fishermen, who say it was in retaliation after their equipment was damaged first.
Now a local school board is also getting involved, calling for a respectful dialogue all around.
On Thursday, the Tri-County Regional Centre for Education sent a letter to parents and guardians of local school children.
The letter said in part, that the dispute was a teachable moment, and the school board was encouraging discussion of the dispute in school, adding that any form of discrimination was unacceptable.
The letter added that treaty education will be a part of the discussion surrounding ‘Orange Shirt Day’, which all schools will participate in on September 30, in recognition of survivors of Canada’s residential school system and the impact it had on Indigenous communities.
In a separate letter, Kings-Hants Liberal M.P. Kody Blois voiced his support for the First Nations fishery, but added there needed to be clarification around what the term ‘moderate livelihood’ actually meant.
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