Manitoba Indigenous leaders, community rally to support Mi'kmaq fishers

Indigenous Manitoba leaders held a Horse Spirit Ride on Portage Avenue to the Manitoba Legislative Building on Wednesday to show their support for the well-being of Mi’kmaq relations in Nova Scotia.

The event was organized due to non-Indigenous commercial fishers in Nova Scotia and their supporters having raided and burned two facilities where Mi’kmaq fishers had stored their catch last week.

Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack had also been physically attacked by the commercial fishers.

“What we have witnessed is an attack and assault on our Aboriginal and treaty rights. The Aboriginal and treaty rights are constitutionally protected under Section 35 of the Constitution of Canada,” said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee on Wednesday.

“Today, Canada has broken its constitution by failing to intervene in the protection of our people in Nova Scotia. That is not acceptable and we will not stand for it here in Manitoba. With all our First Nations here, we stand in solidarity.”

Manitoba's Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Kevin Hart has written a letter to the European Union to boycott Canadian lobsters until the Mi’kmaq’s rights are recognized.

“The European Union purchases $175 million of Canadian lobster each year. We are going to tell them to make sure that when they purchase lobsters in the future that they are certified Mi’kmaq lobsters,” he said.

“We stand collectively with our brothers and sisters out east, our Mi’kmaq people, our relatives and our family to let them know that we will never negotiate our treaty and inherent rights. Period.”

The Spirit Ride participants are calling on the Canadian government to facilitate meaningful dialogue and resolution between all parties in the fishery dispute, and that traditional harvesting rights are honoured and upheld.

They are also requesting that the RCMP fulfil its mandate and protect all people from further acts of violence.

“We are here today because we want to stand with our relatives in the east and let them know that they are not alone. We echo their sentiments and no more will we listen to our government policies that persecute and oppress our people,” said Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

“On behalf of President Chartrand, I want to say that unequivocally the Metis Nation supports the Mi’kmaq fishers as they stand for their inherent rights today. We are with the Mi’kmaq people,” said Manitoba Metis Federation Minister of Housing and Property Management Will Goodon

Before the Spirit Ride, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) held a Facebook Live event addressing the issue.

During the virtual conference, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas noted that they will be amplifying the issue further as there needs to be a meaningful discussion about the Mi’kmaq fisheries.

Senator Murray Sinclair, who was also present at the Facebook Live, added that the videos displayed violent, racist behaviour by the commercial fishers against Mi'kmaq people.

"If we are a nation of laws, then the highest law in this country is the constitution, and our constitution recognizes and affirms the treaty rights of the Mi'kmaq people to conduct themselves in accordance to their fishing rights under those treaties," said Sinclair, who was a former judge and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun