As Mi'kmaw harvesters set out from Saulnierville on Thursday morning to set their lobster traps, they launched a celebration of Mi'kmaq Treaty Day.
This is a collection of photos captured that day at the wharf in the southwestern Nova Scotia community, where people travelled from all over the territory known as Mi'kma'ki to celebrate the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1725-1779.
Treaty Day is also held to raise public awareness of the treaties signed between the Mi'kmaq and the Crown. It marks the beginning of Mi'kmaq History Month in Nova Scotia.
For several weeks, tensions have been boiling in the St. Mary's Bay area of Nova Scotia between non-Indigenous and Indigenous fishermen after Sipekne'katik First Nation launched its fisheries management plan to allow community members to earn a moderate livelihood from the fishery.
Thursday morning, several Mi'kmaw harvesters geared up their boats and headed out into the bay to assert the treaty right to fish lobster, which was reaffirmed in a Supreme Court of Canada decision on Sept. 17, 1999, following the arrest of Mi'kmaw fisherman Donald Marshall Jr. for selling eels.
"Today is a great day for our culture and our nation as a whole," Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne'katik First Nation said at the celebration. "We have a lot of people here, kids, adults, elders, everyone is here to assert our treaty right."
Sack said talks with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans continue, and he has a meeting with the department on Monday to discuss how the two parties can move forward on a fisheries management plan.
"Our goal is to get the nation-to-nation [relationship] and for the provincial government, federal government to recognize our right to do so, and to be treated with respect," Sack said, "and to just be seen eye to eye as opposed to dealing with us at the last minute."
Potlotek First Nation launched its own moderate livelihood fishery on Thursday and other communities have expressed interest in doing so as well. Listuguj First Nation in Quebec and Natoageneg First Nation in New Brunswick launched similar management plans for their fisheries last year.
Supporters of the Mi'kmaw harvesters came to the Saulnierville wharf from all over the Atlantic bubble, from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Listuguj in Quebec and Cape Breton.
Malcolm Ward came to Saulnierville from Metepenagiag First Nation in New Brunswick to deliver traps and gear donated by fisherman in Esgenoôpetitj First Nation to help offset the losses that occurred when some non-Indigenous fishermen cut lines to traps in recent weeks.
Sack said it's been difficult for Mi'kmaw fishermen to get access to gear and supplies in local areas.
Ward said it was important to him that he make the trip to Saulnierville to help and show his support.
"It shows us all gathering as one to show support, not for just the one community, but for all of them, all the other communities that are looking to practise moderate livelihood," Ward said. "It's a very important issue. It's very powerful to see us all come together like this."
A powwow was organized on the Saulnierville wharf just days ahead of Treaty Day.
During the grand entry of the mawiomi, or gathering, the Acadian flag was flown and carried in alongside the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag to show respect to the centuries-old relationship between to Indigenous and settler communities of the area, who have been at odds over the moderate livelihood fishery in recent weeks.
"The Acadians were our allies," Sack said. "We have nothing against them, we honoured them today and we hope for mutual respect."
Members of the Maritime Fishermen's Union presented a Mi'kmaw elder with a basket containing sweet grass, tobacco and sage during Treaty Day celebrations.
Despite conflicts on the Saulnierville wharf in September, spirits were high throughout the day and people were reminded that Mi'kmaq Treaty Day is a day to celebrate rights.