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Ottawa affirms Mi'kmaq treaty rights in Nova Scotia lobster dispute

Last Updated Sep 22, 2020 at 6:05 pm MDT

A Mi’kmaq drummer pauses during a prayer as members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation bless the fleet before it launches its own self-regulated fishery on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. Two federal ministers have confirmed Indigenous fishermen have the right to fish to earn a living after meeting with Mi'kmaq chiefs in Nova Scotia on Monday.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam said he supports First Nations in Nova Scotia exercising their treaty rights to harvest lobster.

The federal government recently affirmed the rights held by the Sipekne’katik First Nation and the Mi’kmaq fishermen.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan and Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett released a statement on Sept. 21 saying the Mi’kmaq have a constitutionally protected treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood.

Chief Adam said the ACFN found the events taking place in that province deeply disturbing.

“The treaty rights we hold as First Nations are not negotiable; they are enshrined in law. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Mi’kmaq right to fish and sell their catch for a moderate livelihood; these rights are not subject to the opinions or beliefs of others, including non-Indigenous fishermen.”

Treaty rights

Non-Indigenous fishermen staged protests in St. Marys Bay, N.S., pulling around 350 traps over the weekend

Indigenous fishers set those traps in the off-season, which ends in late November.

Jordan and Bennett denounced what they said were the threats, intimidation and vandalism they witnessed in southwestern Nova Scotia.

They said they plan to work with Mi’kmaq leaders on the implementation of the First Nation’s treaty right.

Chief Allan Adam demanded the federal government act to protect treaty rights.

“If the Government of Canada sits idly by while Mi’kmaq fishermen are attacked and prevented from exercising their constitutionally-protected rights, it is the same as denying those rights.”

He added the federal government should use every available resource, including the Coast Guard, to protect the Mi’kmaq and ensure they may continue their harvest.

“We stand with the Indigenous Chiefs in Nova Scotia in calling on the Canadian government to denounce the reprehensible vandalism and overt racism being endured by the Mi’kmaq, and to address this situation immediately.”

Chief Adam said the federal government’s failure to act will send a chilling message to other First Nations in Canada.

This article includes excerpts from The Canadian Press.