Unama'ki leadership is making its way to the wharf in Lower Saulnierville, N.S., in solidarity with Sipekne'katik First Nation.
The Mi’kmaq community issued its own moderate livelihood fishing tags this week that set off a firestorm of non-Indigenous protestors proclaiming the process was unfair. Chief Leroy Denny of Eskasoni First Nation said the protestors had a right to voice their opinion, but their tactics are dangerous and reckless.
“What happened last night with the boats being aggressive and shooting flares at other boats was uncalled for and unacceptable behaviour,” said Denny.
He suggested they take their complaints to the courts because the Mi’kmaq have fought over 30 years to affirm their treaty rights. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1999 that the Mi’kmaq, through the Peace and Friendship treaties, had an inherent right to hunt, fish and a right to make a moderate living, in what is now known as the Donald Marshall Jr. decision.
But defining the right to a moderate living has been the crux of many tensions between Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous fishers. In 2000, the Esgenoôpetitj First Nation lobster incident saw similar high tensions. Denny says the Mi’kmaq have a right to define those rights.
“They have to respect our livelihood also,” said Denny.
“How many times do we have to win and prove in court, our treaties exist and are strong." — Chief Leroy Denny, Eskasoni
He feels the non-Indigenous protestors need to be educated about treaties and to understand there are smart people in the Mi’kmaq nation also. Many of them understand the importance of conservation and that it’s an important cultural teaching to never take more than you need.
Denny says its blatant systemic racism that people don’t understand the treaties and they need to understand that by cutting fishing lines, they're infringing on Mi’kmaq rights.
“I’m just stunned with what's happening over there but I feel proud that our people are really coming together and uniting,” said Denny.
Denny was on-site Thursday and Friday before heading home to Eskasoni to prepare for the pending inclement weather, but he saw members of the Grand Council, other chiefs, elders and community members make it to the wharf to show support. He’s hoping in the near future to meet with government officials, the RCMP and the DFO to discuss what measures could be in place to protect Mi’kmaq fishers from future harassment.
He thinks more could have been done by those organizations to protect the Mi’kmaq fishers this week. The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs shared that sentiment. In a release, the organization announced a state of emergency on the mainland because of high tensions and demanded the RCMP and DFO protect the Mi'kmaq.
Denny said his community will continue to work on its own plan for moderate livelihood fishing, but he needs the public to know the highest court in Canada continues to affirm those rights.
“How many times do we have to win and prove in court, our treaties exist and are strong."