Replacing Racism with Respect

Many things about 2020 have been disconcerting, to say the least, but here in Nova Scotia we are faced with other issues of particular social significance – the racism revolving around the fishing industry.

As per the Oxford Dictionary:

Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. It is the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

Canadians, in general, have not translated our lessons about racism into positive actions. Our government had to apologize to Japanese citizens who were confined to prisoner of war camps for the duration of World War II. Our federal government apologized to Indigenous people for the residential schools that were instituted to integrate them into Canadian society. Citizens of a peace-loving, democratic country like Canada need to realize that racism is not acceptable.

Racism is hateful and harmful to everyone because the negative fallout permeates our communities and harms everyone. In order to bring about a more equitable understanding, we all need to apply what we have learned to combat racism.

Immediately after writing my last editorial, I read an article about another Indigenous fisherman’s boat being destroyed. Robert Syliboy from Sipekne’katik First Nation had his commercial fishing vessel tied up at the Comeauville Wharf. He was waiting for mechanical work, but that work was never completed because on 5 October 2020, his commercial fishing vessel was burned to the waterline. Apparently the RCMP are still looking through surveillance video tapes to gain more information.


Fishing rights in Atlantic Canada have been a very controversial issue for decades. One example became known as the Burnt Church crisis (1999-2002) when non-Indigenous fishermen formed a flotilla of more than a hundred fishing vessels, chased Indigenous boats, pulled their traps and sparked a wave of vigilantism, arson and brawls. “Everyone was concerned that people were going to die,” said Herb Dhaliwal, the federal fisheries minister at the time. “I had commercial fishermen saying ‘we’re going to bring our guns and we’re going to shoot anyone fishing OUR lobster.’”

Sign in support of Indidgenous fishery

Source: Twitter

Some Indigenous fishers organizations decided to claim their hard-earned legal rights, so they took a proactive approach and followed the Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulations to design their own regulations. There are some leaders of non-Indigenous fishing associations that understand the law and they are willing/able to support the commercial Indigenous fishery. These true leaders know what the 1999 Supreme Court Marshall Decision meant, so they educated and informed their membership.

As an example, the Richmond County Inshore Fishers Association understood and approved of the proposed Potlotek Fishery regulations and have found no need to interfere with the Indigenous fishery. This is an example of intelligent leaders guiding their membership in a non-violent, respectful way forward about a shared resource. There are other leaders of fishers associations who obviously did not meet with their membership to inform them of the law and that has enabled non-Indigenous fishers to facilitate and perpetuate a racist ideology to substantiate even greater racist acts by their members against Indigenous fishers.

Elected representatives of organizations are expected to be educated about the issues and true leaders are supposed to know what to do and advise their membership in the best possible way. They are also supposed to know about the laws regarding their particular industry, organization or business in order to make those legal and socially appropriate decisions. Unfortunately that has not happened in certain parts of Nova Scotia.

For those who want to learn more about the current issue, see: “A Brief [46-page] History of the Lobster Fishery in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Inverness Oran.


Paul Strome

Paul Strome worked 12 years as an educator in the Northwest Territories/Nunavut where he experienced the culture, language and geographic parameters of Indigenous people. He has petitioned the government at every opportunity to bring about the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. As an elder and David Suzuki Ambassador he has championed the Blue Dot Movement in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) and in recent years was the Atlantic regional representative for the Council of Canadians.