People took to the streets of downtown Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday to protest the federal government’s inaction on escalating violence aimed at a Mi’kmaq lobster fishery in Nova Scotia.
Protestors marched to MP Terry Sheehan’s office before gathering outside of RCMP headquarters on Bay Street, raising signs and chanting slogans.
“When this first all started, one of my cousin’s boats was shot at by a flare gun by a non-Indigenous fisherman, and the RCMP and the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) aren’t doing anything,” said Paula Nicholas, a Mohawk from Six Nations who married into a Mi’kmaq family from Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia.
Sipekne'katik First Nation launched a self-regulated lobster fishery in southwest Nova Scotia outside of the federally regulated commercial fishing season earlier this fall. The Mi'kmaq have a constitutionally protected treaty right to fish in pursuit of a ‘moderate livelihood’, but since launching the fishery in mid-September, Sipekne'katik First Nation has seen traps removed, fires set at lobster pounds and its leader assaulted.
“It’s the most brutal form of racism that I have ever seen in my entire 28 years,” said Saultite Caceila Trahan, addressing protesters before marching to Sheehan’s office. “It’s shocking to see the physical violence that our society, our government and our people are allowing to occur.”
Nicholas and others are calling on the RCMP and the federal government to intervene in what many characterize as racially-motivated attacks carried out by non-Indigenous fishermen.
“We just want a call to action. We want to know where is our government, where are the police? The police are standing around watching all these terroristic acts happen, and they’re not doing anything for it,” Nicholas said.
Similar protests are happening across Canada this week. Mississauga First Nation and Serpent River First Nation both were scheduled to stage rallies Wednesday, while another rally is being held by Garden River First Nation at the Highway 17 junction Thursday.
“I think it’s a great crowd, considering we are in a pandemic and everybody has to take personal precautions,” said Karrie Oliver, who called a virtual meeting in order to help others organize Wednesday’s rally collectively. “I see a lot of different communities within the northern shore and across Turtle Island that are participating, and a lot of individuals are doing other work, like letter writing and calling their MPs - just getting information and education out to what treaties are, and what’s occurring down in Nova Scotia right now, and the disrespect to those treaties.”
Although current COVID-19 restrictions are keeping Nicholas separated from her in-laws in Nova Scotia, Nicholas remains hopeful that protests happening across the country will force the federal government’s hand.
“Knowing that I can do this little part - and that it’s across Canada as well, this is a national week of call to action across Canada - I hope it gives my family a little bit of comfort knowing that we’re here and we’re fighting for them, and hopefully this will wake up the government to do something,” she said.
The Anishinabek Nation, representing 39 First Nations throughout the province of Ontario, including the Ojibways of Garden River, announced its full support of the Mi'kmaq fishers of Nova Scotia earlier this week.