Nova Scotia

Dozens protest outside DFO office in Dartmouth over Mi'kmaw treaty rights

A group of roughly two dozen Mi'kmaw protesters and their allies picketed the entrance to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on Thursday in Dartmouth.

Group was protesting DFO enforcement measures against moderate livelihood fishery

The protesters were stationed outside of the entrance to the regional DFO headquarters in Dartmouth. (Jack Julian/CBC)

A group of roughly two dozen Mi'kmaw protesters and their allies picketed the entrance to a Department of Fisheries and Oceans office Thursday in Dartmouth, N.S.

They were protesting ongoing DFO enforcement measures against self-regulated treaty fisheries.

"Now after 269 years, they want to start chipping those rights away? They want to not honour the obligations and the treaties that they made?" said Matthew Cope of the Millbrook First Nation.

"I think it's nothing short of an act of war."

Cope is facing charges for fishing out of season and selling his moderate livelihood catch. He said he intends to fight those charges in Digby in November. 

"We are still a nation within a nation. We have never been ceded," he said. 

"I don't think they [DFO] have any legal capacity to mitigate or regulate our treaty at all. Our treaty rights are ancestral."

Protesters hold signs outside the DFO office in Dartmouth, including one that reads, 'Allow Treaty Protected Right To Fish.' A Supreme Court of Canada decision 22 years ago established a treaty right to the fishery, but its scope has never been defined.  (Jack Julian/CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada recognized the right of First Nations to pursue a moderate livelihood from fishing in 1999. It also recognized government authority to regulate that fishery, but the scope of it has never been defined. 

Melanie Peter-Paul, a protester from Sipekne'katik, noted the recent anniversary of the landmark Marshall ruling during Thursday's demonstration.

"Last Friday, Sept. 17, was 22 years since the Marshall decision. Twenty-two years since the Supreme Court affirmed the treaty right to fish. And yet we are here again demanding that these rights be honoured," she said. 

DFO preparing statement on protest

Peter-Paul said it goes against commitments made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Mr. Trudeau advised that the government is working with Mi'kmaw communities, and will address the ongoing disputes to find balance," she said. 

"And yet this government agency, DFO, stifles any reconciliation ... As they continue to defy treaties which is the very foundation of this country."

Mattio Labrador of the Acadia First Nation also spoke at the protest, decrying what he sees as excessive DFO interventions on the water. 

"It's not necessary, not needed ... We're standing here today. Let something be done. Let something be heard. Let's stop DFO," Labrador said. 

In a written statement, DFO said it has a "flexible, adaptable" policy to allow Mi'kmaw fishers to exercise a moderate livelihood fishery, which is based on conservation, transparency and implementation of treaty rights. 

DFO said any commercial fishing taking place without a recognized licence or outside of mandated seasons is subject to enforcement.

"Officers take a progressive approach, including education, issuing warnings and laying charges, and as always, using discretion ... we have engaged earnestly with First Nations, industry associations and their members," DFO spokesperson Lauren Sankey said by email.

"DFO is committed to working on a collaborative path forward."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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