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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Broken treaties

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Nov 6, 2020

Even though the whole planet is on hold because of Covid-19, racism does not take a break. After the devastating death of Joyce Echaquan in a Quebec hospital, all eyes are now on the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia as Indigenous people once again face bigotry and hate.

If you have not followed the news, settler fishers are bullying Mi’kmaq people for exercising their right to harvest lobster off-season. Once again, non-Natives are using a conservation argument against Indigenous people to prevent them from practicing their traditional way of life. They say that the few Mi’kmaq fishers in that zone are a threat to the survival of the whole lobster species, when, the vast majority of permits issued belong to White people.

Let’s take a quick look at the facts. In 1752, Chief Jean Baptiste Cope and the British Governor of Nova Scotia, Peregrine Hopson, signed a peace treaty that states that the Mi’kmaq have inherent rights to fishing and hunting, and that they can do so “freely”. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized those rights and the right to a “moderate livelihood,” meaning that the Mi’kmaq can harvest lobster for personal consumption and for a modest income. The problem is that those rights are not clearly defined and that seems to create confusion in the minds of White fishers who clearly don’t know – or care – about treaties.

Canada thrives off this ambiguity. I am not surprised that the Senate killed Bill C-262, which would have helped to define the inherent rights that are recognized by Section 35 of the Canadian constitution. In many agreements and treaties, those rights are often not defined in numbers, which makes it easier for governments to deny us what is rightfully ours. This ambiguity also feeds the narrative that we have been conquered and that Canada grants us what they want to.

Right now, in that fishing zone, there are 367,125 lobster traps set by settlers and 250 lobster traps set by the Mi’kmaq. Yet, settlers intimidate Mi’kmaq people on their boats, set their cars and the facilities they operate on fire. To me, it’s no surprise. I say this often, but Canada has always been in an ongoing war for resources. Reserves were created to prevent us from occupying the land and our rights are denied because Canada needs our resources to survive.

I’m happy to see that many businesses took lobster off their menu to support the Mi’kmaq people. This is probably the only positive aspect of it all. I’m mad at Canada for refusing to define Indigenous rights. While the government willingly decides not to fulfill its responsibilities, the physical integrity and safety of the Mi’kmaq people on the frontlines are at risk. This is a dangerous waiting game.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.