Letter to the Editor: Racism on the Water

On Thursday, September 25, in St. Peters on Cape Breton Island, Gilbert Boucher, president of the association that represents fishers in southern Cape Breton, commented on the Potlotek First Nations intention to begin a moderate livelihood fishery. The Chronicle Herald quoted him as saying “They are just exercising their right,” and promising his members would not interfere nor take to the water in protest.

The fishers association leaders in St. Mary’s Bay said their concerns were focused on the federal government and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, not the Indigenous fishers. If that were the case, then why are their members blockading Indigenous wharves, yelling antagonistic racist comments, using many of their boats to surround Indigenous ones out on the water, cutting their trap lines, breaking their car and truck windows while they are out on the water or at night or firing flare guns at them? Those leaders’ comments are nothing but smoke and mirrors to distract us from the main issue — racism and the lack of adulthood to act with civility.

Indigenous lobster harvest, Saulnierville, NS, 2020.19.09

Indigenous lobster harvest, Saulnierville, NS, 19 September 2020 (Still from YouTube video by Bell Boys on Hawaii)

Most adults tell their children that racism is not right and that we need to accept and not just tolerate others who are of different colors, creeds, sexual orientation, etc, so why are there so many hypocrites speaking out and acting out about the Indigenous moderate livelihood fishing season? We need to realize that Indigenous people have the constitutional right to hunt, fish, trap and gather all year round and not just for subsistence living. Yes, our government signed legally-binding treaties to acknowledge the rights of Indigenous people and yet that same federal government perpetrated cultural genocide for centuries as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has documented.

There are facts, then there are stories, opinions and rumors. Today, we also have to contend with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms that allow things like racially-charged opinions to be spread without any kind of truth filters. Most citizens today do not take the time to ferret out the truth about critical social issues even when they have a personal stake of some kind. The right of Indigenous fishers to make a moderate livelihood is one of those issues. The Marshall Decision did not elaborate or delineate what a “moderate livelihood” actually meant, so the ambiguity of this term has left many people asking for clarification that has not been forthcoming.

The Marshall Decision stated that Indigenous fishers could sell their catch in order to provide for their families. The federal government, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, could have taken a firm stance of support on this 21 years ago and educated the public according to the Marshall Decision, but they chose not to, once again. This allowed rumors that were not based in fact to persist and fester in the mind of the public. This negligence promoted racism and the marginalization of Mi’kmaq and that is in opposition to our constitution, which is the law.

A van belonging to a Mi'kmaw fisherman was set ablaze Tuesday night in West Pubnico, N.S. (Riley Howe/Facebook)

A van belonging to a Mi’kmaw fisherman was set ablaze Tuesday night in West Pubnico, N.S. (Riley Howe/Facebook)

In a season, non-Indigenous fishers can bring in about $250,000 to $500,000. A moderate livelihood of Mi’kmaq fishers is anywhere between $30,000 to $50,000” said Justice Gruben, Indigenous activist. It is difficult to verify these figures because license owners/boat owners make a great deal more than crew do so there is the crew’s opinion vs the owner’s opinion. Take a look at Stats Canada if you want to find out more facts about this issue but know that the most recent numbers are from 2015.

The video showing the Acadian flag being flown on all those non-Indigenous boats in order to surround the Indigenous boats and harass them raised a litany of questions. How ironic that it was Acadians racializing Indigenous fishers? Should Acadian fishers not have been much more understanding of the Indigenous fishers because of their Acadian historical background in Nova Scotia? Would Acadians not have remembered their forced expulsion from Grand-Pré in 1756 at the hands of the English? They were oppressed 264 years ago and passed that feeling of victimization from one generation to the next, shouldn’t they be more sympathetic to others in that same position?

The RCMP and the DFO are in the middle of this, and tensions are running high with all the immediate participants as well as allied individuals and organizations. Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan needs to put her nose to the grindstone and convince other members of parliament to pass the essential laws/policies to deal with the issue of the Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery immediately. Maybe parliament also needs to strengthen the laws addressing the hate crimes aspects of racism that are so detrimental to the mental, physical, emotional, economic and spiritual health of the scapegoats of the privileged white folks.

Paul Strome
Cheticamp, NS

Note: This article originally appeared in the Inverness Oran.