Troubles

kelly clark fotography

They set fire and burned a Mi’kmaq lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico to the ground.  I had no idea Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq are having significant troubles with commercial fishers until Crow Eddy, Disciple Mi’kmaq artist, friend, and Co-Moderator of the Center for Indigenous Ministries, told me.  This was disturbing in at least two ways.  First, my not knowing the troubles of the Mi’kmaq, a people whose land-base is US and Canadian, signifies how US media continues to play a racist role in concealing acts of injustice toward Indigenous people.  Second, is Indigenous and non-indigenous people alike struggle to preserve—or re-claim—their natural identity of self and family. 

On September 17, the Sipekne’katik, a band of the Mi’kmaq, began a lobster fishery.  The Sipekne’katik opened the fishery based on the 21-year-old Canadian Supreme Court Marshall Decision which affirmed a 1760 British treaty giving the Mi’kmaq the constitutional right to fish, hunt and gather so they might maintain a moderate livelihood.  When the Sipekne’katik fishery opened their season—“off” the commercial season—the commercial fishing industry took offense.  Mi’kmaq fishers began having their ropes and buoys cut, a fishing boat burned, Chief Sack of the Sipekne’katik assaulted, and the Middle West Pubnico lobster pound charred.  More so, some commercial fishers told “local businesses that should they receive lobster from the Sipekne’katik they would be blacklisted, [which at the time left]…Sipekne’katik fishers with lobster and no place to sell them.

The Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq ordeal is not unlike the fishing unrest northwest US Tribal Nations experienced in the 1960’s and 70’s when US State officials and commercial fishers believed Tribal Nation people did not have a right to gillnet northwest waters.  Unrest came to a head in 1968 when Oregon officials arrested Richard and David Sohappy for violating conservation laws while gillnetting on the Columbia River.  Upon hearing Sohappy v. Smith in U.S. District Court in 1969, Judge Robert Belloni ruled the 1855 Treaty gave Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce people the legal right to fish waters of their ancestors.  The decision was reinforced in 1974 by the Boldt Decision (United States v. Washington) and confirmed by the US Supreme Court in 1979.

To grasp Nova Scotia and US northwest Indigenous peoples fishing troubles is to understand the Doctrine of Discovery saddled North American people with a system based in capitalistic racism.  Both Canada and the US created economic colonial systems—benefiting settler-colonizers over the landscapes original people—whereby the government gives background support to privately owned companies whose profit-based operations provide the government with taxes and international power.  Recognizing commercial fishing enterprises feed directly into this system (opposed to Indigenous fishers) it makes systemic sense the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has done little to stop the violence Mi’kmaq fishers have experienced.  Why might this matter to Mi’kmaq and non-Mi’kmaq people alike?    Because capitalistic racism is framing Mi’kmaq and non-Mi’kmaq identity—family, community, thinking, emotions, spirituality—to accept provided roles which enhance profit and power of business and government.  This is done at a cost to the people’s natural identity which would otherwise embrace tenderness, passion, and excitement for neighbor, water, soil, fish, and animals.

Though the Boldt Decisions gives northwest US Tribal fishers a fair and equitable share from usual and accustomed grounds and the Marshall Decision allows for a moderate livelihood, both are based in a racist model of profit separating people from their natural identity—and their created core value—of care where all people have a right to an equitable and sustainable livelihood.  US and Canadian capitalistic identity tend to have people hear the Boldt and Marshall Decisions as either giving Indigenous people a “handout” or an advantage to obtain greater profit.  Whereas what both decisions actually maintain is the status quo of pitting people whose natural identity is that of fisher, against one another—which allows the fishing industry and government to profit. (Is it little wonder the RCMP are doing little to intervene in the Mi’kmaq troubles?)  And even if the Decisions are put in their best light, they do no more than say Indigenous fishers have the right to support—housing, food, healthcare—their families and communities too.

Considering the troubles from a perspective of racism, it is evident government and private industry alike profit from the toil of Indigenous and non-indigenous people.  Considered from a perspective of identity it is apparent this is an issue of ancestral justice.  The ancestors of all fishing people worked to maintain the wellbeing of their children and elders through the art of fishing.  When Indigenous and non-indigenous fishers appreciate their harvest of fish and lobster is never to be profitable but rather sustainable, ecological, and familial, then and only then will their families and fishery heal and mend.

To recognize Mi’kmaq and commercial fishers of Nova Scotia are currently playing out roles crafted by the racist system of Canada is to know change is possible.  The opus for change lies heavily upon the non-indigenous population, because of the privilege provided them by racism; however, all people must recognize the illicit racist system is fluid and will give power to whomever will readily maintain a form of capitalism which favors industry and government.  Such recognition calls people to experience their neighbor, Mi’kmaq and non-Mi’kmaq, as family whose sustainable wellbeing outweighs industrial profit and government power.

2 Comments

  1. Appreciate this report which leads to my greater concern that barring North American recognition of the non sustainability of our current practice of capitalism it will not just be the way of life of indigenous people that is increasingly threatened.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and yes I agree. Because our capitalistic practices are based in the extraction of natural created resources (for the benefit of profit), it is only a matter of time before our landscapes can no longer sustain our life-ways.

      Like

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