People from across the country are watching the situation unfold in southwest Nova Scotia as the fishery dispute continues.
Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, an organization representing Gesgapegiag, Gespeg and Listuguj in Quebec, is watching closely and supporting the Sipekne’katik First Nation.
“A lot of the issue really is that non-Indigenous Canadians just don’t know the real history of the treaties,” executive director Tanya Barnaby-Williams says. “We’re all treaty people, non-Indigenous people are treaty people as well. … It’s just that they’ve been enjoying the benefits of the treaties a lot longer than the Mi’kmaq have.”
The group says education about treaty rights needs to be at the forefront to further the conversation, especially the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752.
“We need to be treated the way that we are mentioned in the treaties… We are the original inhabitants of the territory, and as such, we have different rights,” Barnaby-Wiliams says. “That is one thing that sometimes gets misconstrued is that we somehow want to be like everybody else.”
Commercial fishers near Nova Scotia’s southwest coast say they’re concerned about conservation. But for some of those involved, tension has boiled over and violence has erupted. However, all sides are calling for more action from the federal government.
Sipekne’katik Chief Michael Sack was set to meet with Joel Comeau, the former president of Maritime Fisherman’s Union Local 9, on Friday but it was called off as a result of reports that non-Indigenous commercial fishers were mobilizing.
Comeau, who had previously expressed a desire to have a dialogue between non-Indigenous commercial fishers and the Sipekne’katik First Nation, only recently resigned as president.
He told Global News on Friday that his family had been threatened by non-Indigenous commercial fishers and it had left his daughter afraid to be home alone.
He said he is worried about his small, predominantly francophone community because it is depressed and “emotionally shattered” by the ongoing tensions with the Indigenous fishing in St. Marys Bay.
The 45-year-old fisher said the federal Fisheries Department has failed to include all parties in talks, and frustrations have boiled over.
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And Barnaby-Williams calls the situation “sad… it’s scary.”
She’s calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to come to Nova Scotia to “see what’s going on, see the real picture of what the Mi’kmaq are doing to protect and exercise their right to fish.”
“He needs to see what his citizens are doing as a result of that,” she says.
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says conversations and negotiations behind closed doors may appear like there’s not been progress made, but he’s hoping that process will help de escalate the situation.
“We find ourselves in a historic situation where we are catching up with court cases that have affirmed those rights,” Miller told Global News Sunday. “Historically, if you look at those cases, they’ve been denied. Indigenous peoples have shown extreme courage in standing up for their rights.”
Meanwhile, the president of a group representing Acadians in New Brunswick is denouncing “in the strongest possible terms the incidents of violence and intimidation” that have taken place recently.
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“Born in a rural and coastal community myself, I understand the frustrations of the communities involved in regard to the uncertainty generated by this blatant lack of government leadership,” Alexandre Cédric Doucet, of the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick, says. “After all, the fishery in question is an important livelihood for many and the backbone of the region’s economy.”
And Barnaby-Williams hopes more of a federal response will prevent the situation from worsening.
“Before anyone gets really hurt… on either side,” she says. “And there shouldn’t be sides, but unfortunately, right now, there is.”
-With files from Global News’ Alexander Quon