Nova Scotia

Treaty rights an election issue, says Sipekne'katik chief

Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne'katik First Nation is calling on all levels of government to honour its agreements with Indigenous Peoples.

Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne'katik First Nation says it's time for the Crown to recognize fishing rights

Mike Sack is chief of the Sipekne'katik First Nation. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Hundreds of years after the treaties were signed, the chief of a Nova Scotia First Nation says it's time for the Crown to honour its agreements with Indigenous Peoples and recognize their fishing rights.

Ahead of the provincial election later this month and the widely anticipated federal election this fall, Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne'katik First Nation called on all levels of government to recognize treaty rights.

"The impacts of colonization and the residential school system have had a stranglehold on us for decades," he said in a statement Saturday.

"Our postal code has the highest percentage of childhood poverty in the region. It's devastating to feel and see the impacts of the economic disparity we are living in."

Path out of poverty

The fishery offers the Mi'kmaw community in central Nova Scotia a path out of poverty, Sack said.

But the strict restrictions on what Indigenous fishers can catch and sell further perpetuates the cycle of injustice, he said.

"The fishery is a central way for our people to support themselves with the skills they have learned over generations so we can contribute to our families and communities," Sack said.

"Yet even in this, we are drastically restricted by Canada in what we can catch and in most cases sell."

Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia argue that a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirms the Mi'kmaw treaty right to fish for a "moderate livelihood" when and where they want, including outside the federally regulated commercial fishing season.

Escalation last fall

Some critics, however, are quick to point out a clarification later issued by the court saying the treaty rights would be subject to federal regulations.

The dispute over Mi'kmaw fishing rights in southwestern Nova Scotia escalated last fall, with a lobster pound that stored the catch of Mi'kmaw fishers burned to the ground.

"We catch a nominal amount of lobster in comparison to the commercial fishery ... yet our gear is pulled, our boats are vandalized and our fishery is stifled," Sack said.

"We know that the people who destroy our gear and try to intimidate and sabotage us in no way represent Nova Scotians or Canadians."

He added: "Our hope is for renewed leadership and a better understanding of our condition from non-Indigenous people ... what happens in the coming years matters a great deal and in many cases will be critical to our livelihood and survival."