Montreal

New docuseries opens a window into the lives of eastern Mi'kmaw fishers

Gespe'gewa'gi: The Last Land gives in an inside look on the boats of Mi'kmaw fishers, and the lasting impact of the 1981 salmon raids.

13-part series will air on APTN beginning next month

Rodney Barnaby, a Mi'kmaw fisher, gets his boat ready to head out on the water. (Submitted by Lisa M. Roth)

Four thousand people strong, the territory of Gespe'gewa'gi is the seventh and largest district of the Mi'kmaw Nation.

The traditional lands encompass much of what is known today as the Gaspé peninsula, northwestern New Brunswick, and the eastern parts of mainland Quebec. 

The community of Listuguj, overlooking the mouth of the Baie des Chaleurs about a six-hour drive from Quebec City, is the largest in the district and the home port for many Mi'kmaw commercial fishers.

The Mi'kmaw know these waters well. For generations they relied on harvesting resources from the territory, fishing being one of their staples.

A new documentary series called Gespe'gewa'gi: The Last Land provides a window into the fishers' daily lives.

WATCH | Producers Ernest Webb and Lisa Roth talk about the making of the series. 

New docuseries is a window into the lives of Mi'kmaw fishers

Our Montreal

4 months ago
4:53

 

The first episode follows Rodney Barnaby and Peter Martin as they prepare their boats for the new season.

In Listuguj, fishing stops for the winter. Many of the commercial fishers spend the cold months with their families, in school learning how to be a captain, or finding work in the forestry industry. When spring rolls around, they are buzzing to get back on the water.

Ernest Webb, who is Cree, is the director and executive producer for the show. He learned about the fishing community in Listuguj through a conversation with a colleague.

He and co-producer Lisa Roth hope the docuseries will give audiences a new perspective on Mi'kmaw fishers.

"I hope that people realize we are all human," said Webb.

"It's important to tell these stories," said Roth. "A lot of people hear about Indigenous communities out east in the news only, but they don't get to meet the people."

Ernest Webb is co-director and executive producer of Gespe’gewa’gi: The Last Land. (Submitted by Rezolution Pictures)

Roth was referring to headline-making violence targeting the Indigenous fishery in Nova Scotia last year.

In October, a mob descended on a lobster pound used by fishers from the Sipekneꞌkatik First Nation, a Mi'kmaw community in the central part of the province, and burned it to the ground. 

In December, shots were fired at a Mi'kmaw boat from Pictou Landing First Nation. Four people were later arrested.

A straight line can be drawn from those conflicts to a police raid in Listuguj in 1981, where the Mi'kmaw were accused of catching salmon out of season. The resulting legal battle eventually landed before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999.

That's when the Court first ruled that Indigenous fishers had the right to earn a "moderate livelihood" under federal law. The debate over the appropriate interpretation of those words continues.

Gespe'gewa'gi: The Last Land illustrates how echoes of the raid resonate in Listuguj to this day.

The 13-part series airs in English on Saturdays at 7 p.m. EST on APTN. It also airs in Mi'kmaw at 7 a.m. on Thursdays.

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