FREDERICTON, N.B. – “I am deeply disappointed by the overt racism being practiced online and in real life by individuals and groups connected to St. Mary’s Bay in Nova Scotia,” said Jenica Atwin, Member of Parliament for Fredericton and Green Party critic for Crown-Indigenous relations affairs and East coast fisheries. “I stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaw harvesters exercising their legal right to a moderate living.”
“The aggressive and illegal actions from commercial fishers directed toward Indigenous fishers is wrong and must be called out. Unfortunately, these behaviours are being validated by the response from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans who have been searching Indigenous fishing boats and seizing traps. Their failure to condemn the activities of commercial fishers in Weymouth and Saulnierville makes them directly complicit.”
In the 1999 Marshall decision, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized First Nations’ rights to earn a moderate living from fishing after Donald Marshall Jr. was wrongfully charged with harvesting fish out of season. Twenty one years later the federal government has still not defined a ‘moderate living’.
“I have asked Ministers Jordan and Bennett to de-escalate the situation in St. Mary’s Bay, while respecting Indigenous rights enshrined in the Marshall decision over 20 years ago,” said Atwin. “A moderate living has already been defined in New Brunswick and can serve as a model. And it is certainly not a threat to conservation efforts. The Indigenous fishery is and will continue to be significantly dwarfed by the commercial activities in the bay.”
There are 944 commercial fishing licenses in district 34, alone. Each license holder will be able to have 375 traps in the water with an unlimited quota for six months this winter.
Clearwater Seafoods holds a monopoly of licenses off-shore in district 41 and operates year-round.
“When Clearwater Seafoods pled guilty to a gross violation of regulations governing its 4000+ traps two years ago, we didn’t see this level of public outcry. What is happening in St. Mary’s Bay is about racism,” said Atwin.
“We need Minister Jordan to change course immediately: to cease the practice of search and seizure of Indigenous fishers, to clarify the definition of a ‘moderate living’, and to confirm what this looks like in practice with non-Indigenous fishers” said Atwin. “We need the local police to step in to protect the Indigenous fishers from vandalism, threats and destruction of property. We need local journalists to better understand the legal and rights-based frameworks under which Indigenous communities operate before they start reporting on both ‘sides’. And we need to recognize that it is systemic racism in our institutions and our individual biases that have allowed us to get to this point.”
Green Party Interim Leader Jo-Ann Roberts added: “As a journalist I covered what was known as the “war on the water” in New Brunswick 20 years ago. There is no need to be fighting over these rights two decades later. I trust Minister Jordan will make that clear. On behalf of all Greens, we stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq in their patient struggle for the right to livelihood to be respected.”
In Atlantic Canada, relationships between British and French settlers and First Nations were negotiated through peace and friendship treaties that were signed between 1725 and 1779. These treaties did not cede land, but did guarantee hunting, fishing and land-use rights for the descendants of the Indigenous signatories.
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