A pitched battle is being fought over fishing rights in Nova Scotia, Canada. On one side, is the Mi’kmaw nation, and on the other stands fishers backed by big business.
Commercial lobster fishers, backed by big corporate interests, are unleashing racist violence to deny Mi’kmaw fishers their rights.
Indigenous fishers such as Jason Marr have seen their lobster traps destroyed and their boats surrounded and harassed by the commercial fleet.
“They vandalised (my van) and they were peeing on it, pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires,” Marr said last week.
Marr was one of several Mi’kmaw fishers who were trapped in a lobster processing plant on Tuesday night by a mob chanting racist insults and threats. The plant was damaged and a Mi’kmaw boat was burned.
Three nights later the same processing plant was burned to the ground.
On land Mi’kmaw fishers are denied service at marine fuelling stations. Local restaurants refuse them service. People who have the nerve to purchase Mi’kmaw-caught lobster have faced intimidation and threats.
Facing the threat of overfishing, there are rules limiting the length of the commercial lobster season.
Local corporate fishers claim to be worried about conservation—but this has been laughed down by scientists.
There are only seven Mi’kmaw sanctioned boats, using several hundred lobster traps at most.
A single big commercial boat would do more damage to lobster stocks than the entire Mi’kmaw fleet.
The current Mi’kmaw struggles are exploding after centuries of anti-indigenous persecution and deeply ingrained racist bias on the part of police and the state.
Recent events suggest that nothing has changed.
Mi’kmaw officials have been calling for police protection of their people, property and legal rights—but they have been ignored.
Were the tables turned, with Indigenous activists intimidating white fishers, there would be no shortage of police action.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have dismissed concerns from the Mi’kmaw people about vandalism, intimidation and mob attacks.
A RCMP spokesperson said, “The RCMP understands what the issue here is. We don’t see it as a police issue, but we understand both sides and we understand the passion and what they’re bringing to the table. And we respect that.”
It echoes Donald Trump’s words following fascist violence in Charlottesville, that there were “fine people on both sides”.
Far-right voices among the commercial fishers were quick to echo the statement on social media and brag, not without justification, that the police supported their cause.
But with the arson of the lobster processing plant, national attention has focused on police inaction.
After more than a week of silence from political leaders, prime minister Justin Trudeau was forced to publicly condemn the violence.
Support is building for Indigenous issues and Mi’kmaw rights. On 19 October, several thousand people rallied in the Nova Scotia capital of Halifax in solidarity with the Mi’kmaw fishers.