Northern Indigenous artists raise money to support Mi'kmaw fishers in Nova Scotia

A group of Indigenous artists in the Northwest Territories is raising money to support Mi'kmaw fishers in Nova Scotia.

'What happens to one nation is happening to all nations,' says artist and advocate

Gerri Sharpe is an artist and advocate based in Yellowknife. Sharpe is one of the organizers of the group. (Submitted by Gerri Sharpe)

Gerri Sharpe spent a good part of her childhood in Nova Scotia, and still has family there.

As she watches the events unfolding in the province, she feels a lot of anger and fear of what it would be like for her to return down south one day.

"What's going on down there is horrific, and they need help," said Sharpe, who is now an advocate and artist living in Yellowknife.

Sharpe is one of the organizers and artists involved in a Facebook group of artists based in the Northwest Territories, auctioning off their artwork online to support Mi'kmaw fishers in Nova Scotia.

'The fight is not new'

All of the money will be going directly to the Sipekne'katik First Nation, which launched its own self-regulated fishery in September. 

The opening coincided with the 21 year anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada's Marshall decision which reaffirmed and upheld the First Nations right to earn a 'moderate livelihood' from fishing — under the 1760s Peace and Friendship Treaties. Decades later, there has been no agreement on how to regulate a moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia.

The Mi'kmaw-regulated lobster fishery has faced tense and at times violent opposition by commercial fishery workers.

Qillulaaq Arngna'naaq made these 'land back' earrings, which have been popular on the auction page. (Qillulaaq Arngna'naaq)

Last week several hundred commercial fishers and their supporters raided two facilities where Mi'kmaw fishers were storing their catches. Indigenous leaders condemned those actions as racist hate crimes and called for the RCMP to step up their response.

"It is uncalled for ... the level of racism is new, but the actual fight is not new. They have had to do this for many, many years," said Sharpe.

Support from the North

The Facebook group was created by artists in the Northwest Territories on Sunday, when they re-purposed a group previously used to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sharpe said she hopes that the money raised can go toward food and supplies for those on the frontlines, and possibly go toward replacing a van belonging to a Mi'kmaw fisher that was set ablaze during violent protests. 

"Every little bit counts … we want to show support and kill them with kindness," said Sharpe. "What happens to one nation is happening to all nations."

Qillulaaq Arngna'naaq is one of the artists working on the project. (submitted by Qillulaaq Arngna'naaq)

Qillulaaq Arngna'naaq is a beader based in Yellowknife and is one of the artists involved in the project. 

"It's really frustrating to see the situation happening down there. And we're so far away ... I hope people would be supporting us if we were in their shoes," Arngna'naaq said.

Arngna'naaq hopes that support from the North reminds them that they aren't alone.

"It must be terrifying for them. The threats, and destruction of assets, and just ... open hatred toward Miq'maw."

On Tuesday, Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek and the Assembly of First Nations Yukon Region issued a statement also showing support of the Sipekne'katik First Nation and the Mi'kmaq fishers "as they continue to fight racism and violence while attempting to exercise their treaty right."

Help from across the world 'overwhelming,' says fisher

Jolene Marr is a fisher from Sipekne'katik First Nation who, for over a month, has spent most of her time at the federal wharf in Saulnierville where the fishery was launched.

She said the "tremendous" help from people across the world has been heartwarming.

"It's just outrageous, the support, it's overwhelming … it gives us a sense of hope that we're fighting for everyone here. These are all of our treaty rights."

Marr said the support for the First Nation from across the country has been 'overwhelming.' (Nic Meloney/CBC)

She said she isn't sure how long they're going to be at the wharf, so they're prepping for the "long haul."

"It's coming from everywhere and it's appreciated ... even your words of solidarity go a long way. It doesn't have to be monetary, it doesn't have to be material things."

"I ask those who have privilege to use your privilege to push your government to get us support out on the water for our fishermen."