Two rallies in Winnipeg call for government protection and action for Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq lobster fishers

By Katlyn Streilein

Horses from Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation paraded around the legislative grounds on Oct. 21 during a rally to support Mi’kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia./KATLYN STREILEIN

Fresh snow crunched underfoot as people gathered outside the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday afternoon to rally in solidarity with Mi’kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia.

Some non-Indigenous fishers have targeted the Mi’kmaq fishermen over the past few weeks: severing lobster trap lines, destroying a warehouse used by Indigenous fishers, and burning a Mi’kmaw fisherman’s van. A 34-year-old man from Yarmouth, N.S. has been charged with arson. 

But some people at Wednesday’s rally say the RCMP’s lack of action to protect Mi’kmaq fishers and their property due to systemic racism. 

“When the white fishermen were committing violence against the Indigenous peoples on the East Coast, they stood by and did nothing,” said Andrea Campbell, a 34-year-old human rights masters student. 

The point of contention for the commercial fishers is the Mi’kmaq right to fish for a moderate livelihood, outlined in a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision re-affirming a treaty dating back to the 1700s.

“I believe they need to be honouring the treaties that allowed Canada to become a country,” said Campbell. 

Some non-Indigenous fishers argue the Indigenous fishers should have to abide by the same regulations they do.

Chiefs from a number of First Nations took to the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building on Oct. 21 to speak out against the violence being inflicted on Mi’kmaq fishers by non-Indigenous commercial fishers./KATLYNSTREILEIN

Others argue the Mi’kmaq’s year-round lobster harvest—which they’ve been practicing in southwestern Nova Scotia for thousands of years—is unsustainable. This is untrue, according to academics from the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Governance department at Dalhousie University.

The energy from Wednesday’s rally carried over into a second, grassroots gathering on Friday in front of the RCMP headquarters hosted by the group Manito Api of Turtle Island. 

Supporters sang and drummed as they marched up Portage Ave. toward the harsh, late afternoon sun.

 “Taking to the streets is one way people will notice what’s going on,” said Kelsey Wavey. The 25-year-old artist’s voice trembled as she spoke. 

“I’m sick of waking up every day having to look at colonial violence. What they’re doing to Indigenous people coast to coast is not okay.”

Rally organizer Sadie-Pheonix Lavoie said the grassroots group is working to amplify the voices of two-spirit folks, youth, matriarchs, and Mi’kmaq living in Winnipeg. 

“The fact that they didn’t serve or protect any of us just shows why they exist in the first place,” said 26-year-old from Sagkeeng First Nation. “Folks out west are getting arrested and facing violence by the RCMP, so we want to draw upon those things as well and show solidarity all across Turtle Island.”

Calls for racial justice and the honouring of treaties were a thread throughout this week’s events in Winnipeg. Similar rallies were held across the country in major cities like Vancouver and Edmonton for the Mi’kmaq and all Indigenous peoples across Canada still fighting for ancestral and human rights.