Hundreds of people gathered in Halifax Sunday afternoon to show their support for Mi’kmaw fishers and their moderate livelihood lobster fishery, in the wake of ongoing tensions in the southwestern part of the province.
People carrying signs reading “we see through your racism” and “all eyes on Mi’kma’ki” stood together in Grand Parade, cheering for passionate speeches being made on the steps of City Hall.
“Our nation is in danger,” said Kyra Gilbert, a young Mi’kmaw woman, to loud cheers.
Mi’kmaw women who have been on the front lines in the Digby and Saulnierville areas during the recent violence spoke about the toll it’s taken on the community, and their disgust and disappointment with the RCMP response.
The gathering took place just a day after a fire broke out in Middle West Pubnico at one of two facilities vandalized by commercial fishermen earlier this week.
Police say the fire is suspicious and a man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries believed to be related to the fire.
More RCMP officers also arrived in the area Sunday, including an emergency response team, a critical incident command team and officers from Prince Edward Island who are trained in de-escalation and crowd control.
Tensions over fishing rights
Tensions have been simmering for weeks in the province’s southwest, sparked by the launch of the Mi’kmaw fishery outside the federally mandated commercial season — 21 years after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case of Donald Marshall Jr.
The landmark decision affirmed the Mi’kmaw right to earn a “moderate livelihood” from fishing. The court later said the federal government could regulate the Mi’kmaw fishery but must justify any restrictions it placed on it.
Many commercial lobster fishermen say they consider the new Sipekne’katik fishery in St. Marys Bay illegal and worry that catching lobster outside the mandated season, particularly during the summer spawning period, will negatively impact stocks.
Sipekne’katik officials have said the amount of lobster that will be harvested and sold is tiny compared with what’s caught during the commercial season, which begins in late November and runs until the end of May.