CALGARY—Land acknowledgements are the kind of performances Canadians love to engage in that substitute platitudes for justice. And now the feces have hit the fan.
For the past few weeks, the Mi’kmaq people have been asserting their rights to trap lobster off-season, first negotiated in a series of Peace and Friendship Treaties with the British, between 1726 and 1779. Here’s a quick rundown. In the 1726 Treaty, “the British promised not to interfere with Indigenous hunting, fishing, and farming.” This is sometimes known as the Mascarene’s Treaty. A 1752 Treaty said the Mi’kmaq “shall have free liberty to bring for Sale to Halifax or any other Settlement within this Province, Skins, feathers, fowl, fish or any other thing they shall have to sell.” The 1760-61 treaties guaranteed the Mi’kmaq “peoples the right to hunt, fish, farm land and earn a reasonable living without British interference.”
This is what we call receipts—receipts that were used in later cases to uphold the Mi’kmaq’s right to fish whenever they damn well pleased on their land (that’s what unsurrendered and unceded in your bullshit land acknowledgements mean).
- The Supreme Court case of Simon v. the Queen in 1985, where Matthew Simon, a Mi’kmaw man was charged with violating the Crown Lands and Forests Act. The Simon case was the first to uphold the 1752 Treaty rights;
- The Supreme Court ruling in 1999 of v. Marshall also ruled that fishing rights had not been extinguished and that their descendants were “not subject to government regulations governing hunting, fishing or land use.” This was later modified to give the federal government authority “if they were deemed environmentally or socially necessary, did not pertain to mining, logging or the exploitation of offshore gas deposits, and were intended to allow for community or individual subsistence, not large-scale profit.” This last part forms the crux of “moderate livelihood.”
And therein lies the sliver of argument that non-Indigenous (read: white) fishermen are using to justify the wide-scale violence they have launched against the Mi’kmaq fishermen—namely that moderate livelihood fishing stocks are environmentally threatening for conservation. That’s rich, considering the great disparity of lobster traps between Clearwater commercial fishery and the Sipekne’katik fishery. Clearwater is a monopoly in offshore lobster, in particular, and North America’s largest shellfish producer with an allowable catch equalling 720 tonnes (1.6 million pounds) per year. Furthermore, Clearwater Seafoods Limited Partnership was convicted of a “gross violation” of regulations last year “for storing 3,800 lobster traps on the ocean bottom off the Nova Scotia coast for upward of two months in the fall of 2017,” according to CBC News. Given that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans warned the company more than once, eventually it felt the need to take further action by carrying out “an at-sea boarding … that revealed ‘a significant marine resource loss directly linked to the fishing practices.’”
Seems like the fishermen’s real enemy is Clearwater, but why worry about that when you can violently flex on a group of people less powerful than you?
And when I say violence, I mean Mississippi Burning-level racist violence where the inconvenience of white settler occupiers supersedes the generational dispossession and denial of rights of Indigenous people.
“We are a country of laws,” the prime minister proclaimed after activists tore down the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Montreal in late August, yet it is law enforcement that is standing back while racist acts of mob violence continue to escalate. In fact, the RCMP tacitly supported the white mob by refusing to enforce the law to protect Indigenous people and promoted disorder, watching a van burn and a lobster pound attacked while Mi’kmaq fishermen were trapped inside. Even Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said in a press conference on Oct. 18 that the RCMP “in Nova Scotia have failed to properly protect Indigenous people embroiled in an ugly dispute over lobster fishing.” Besides stating the obvious, the federal government has to take responsibility for its inaction to incorporate the Marshall decision into public policy.
Funny how the RCMP adjusts its enforcement of the law according to which race’s bodies they feel are worthy of that protection. In other words, law and order is only to protect the white settler colonialists and the rest of us are collateral damage to that end.
And what is Bill Blair’s—a man not known for his enlightened racial views or historical examples of such—profound response? Send in more RCMP officers to also sit around and do nothing. Or perhaps to mimic a Wet’suwet’en response, where further violence is perpetrated by the RCMP. If this is the response Blair is perpetrating as leadership, we’ll see no resolution and more violence.
Make no mistake, this is not a conservation issue, it is an issue of environmental racism by the denial of Indigenous rights, underscored by the violence necessary to enforce white supremacy. Welcome to Canada.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.