By Moira Warburton
Attacks against indigenous lobster fishermen over the weekend are “disgusting,” a government minister said on Monday, as Ottawa provided more police resources to tamp down clashes over lobster fishing rights in eastern Canada.
Tensions between local commercial fishermen and fishermen from the Mi’kmaq First Nation in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia have been escalating in recent days in a conflict over indigenous fishing rights.
Clashes over the weekend and earlier last week involved hundreds of people outside lobster pounds that handle indigenous-caught lobster.
“The acts of violence we have seen in the past days and weeks are disgusting, unacceptable, racist in nature,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1999 that the Mi’kmaq First Nation had the right to hunt and fish for a “moderate livelihood” in their traditional territory.
But the ruling left many grey areas – including the practical definition of “moderate livelihood” – leading Mi’kmaq fishermen to begin catching lobster outside the federally-mandated fishing season and raising the ire of local commercial lobster fishers.
Protests in support of both sides resulted in clashes last week that at times turned violent, with one person being arrested after attacking Chief Michael Sack of the Sipekne’atik First Nation. Meanwhile, the head of the province’s fishing union resigned, citing concerns for his personal safety.
A lobster pound where Indigenous fishermen stored their catch was set on fire, resulting in one person being admitted to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries, police said on Sunday.
On Sunday, Sack said the military needed to be brought in to keep the peace. Indigenous nations have a fraught relationship with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the force responsible for policing in much of rural Canada.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair pushed back on the suggestion on Monday, as he called for an end to the violence.
“This isn’t a military operation, it is a peacekeeping operation,” he said. “We have taken steps necessary to ensure that (the RCMP has) adequate resources to do the job.”