The Wil of the People: Is the heart of reconciliation still beating? — Part 2

    In part two of a series on the Indigenous fishing dispute, columnist Wil Robertson asks why federal and provincial governments or the RCMP intervene during the height of the tension. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    This is part two of a three-part series about the Mi’kmaq fishing dispute. Read part one here

    In September and through October of 2020, the Sipekne’katik First Nation and the Potlotek First Nation placed lobster traps in bays at the opposite ends of Nova Scotia. Each community had developed a management plan based on their treaty rights to earn a moderate livelihood. 

    The response from non-Indigenous fishermen included threats of death and violence, cutting of fishing lines, surrounding Indigenous boats, firing flares at Indigenous Peoples on the boats and surrounding their storage compound trapping two people inside. That same compound burnt to the ground days later. Both non-Indigenous fishers and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have since seized some of the lobster traps. There have also been documented instances of non-Indigenous fishermen and locals using racial slurs, mocking Indigenous cultural practices, burning vehicles and damaging property. 

    One instance received an indictment on Dec. 4. RCMP said they charged 49-year-old Randy Cyril German of Digby County with the alleged assault of a woman on Oct. 14 in New Edinburgh.

    Andrew Joyce of the RCMP said the incident occurred as crowds gathered near the lobster pound that was to handle the catch harvested by Sipekne’katik First Nation fishers. The night before the alleged assault, about 200 people were present at two incidents outside lobster pounds in southwestern Nova Scotia. During the incident, lobster was destroyed, employees were prevented from leaving, rocks were thrown and a vehicle was set on fire. RCMP announced on Jan. 12, they had laid charges against 23 individuals in relation to the events of Oct. 13 at the facility in Middle West Pubnico. 

    Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne’katik called a news conference at the New Edinburgh, N.S. facility to condemn the violence and damage on Oct. 14. Crowds began gathering in the area and there were confrontations and arguments between Indigenous and local non-Indigenous Peoples.

    Where were the federal and provincial governments and the RCMP during the height of these tensions and events? In a statement on Sep. 18, while tensions rose, DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan called “for Indigenous leadership and industry leadership to meet with [her] as soon as possible.”

    Violence continued and tensions remained. Police did little to stop these events as they occurred, notably the events at the storage facility on Oct. 13. Minister Jordan and Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett released a joint statement on Sept. 21 that said, “we thank the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs for their leadership and for the open, respectful and constructive conversation today, where we affirmed what the Marshall Decision declared over 20 years ago — that Mi’kmaw have a constitutionally protected treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood.” They called for peaceful discourse and an end to the tense confrontations.

    Meanwhile, in the time after this, a public game of political hot potato played out. Whose responsibility was it to quell the tensions? The federal government continuously said it was Nova Scotia’s responsibility and the premier of Nova Scotia continued to lay the responsibility at the feet of the federal government. On Oct. 17, Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety and emergency preparedness minister, greenlit a request from the Attorney General of Nova Scotia for more RCMP resources to stop the conflict, following widespread criticism of the RCMP doing nothing whatsoever to stop the violence.