Who is inciting a "race war" in the Nova Scotia lobster fishery?

Say No to DFO!

HALIFAX (23 October 2006) - ACCORDING to sensational reports in the Nova Scotia media, First Nations residents from Eskasoni First Nations, Chapel Island, in the Bras d'Or Lakes of Cape Breton Island, have begun keeping 24-hour watch over band-owned gear and vessels in St. Peter's Canal - about 10 kilometres from their homes - after more than 300 native-owned traps were destroyed or cut from their buoys. Their vessels were also taken and pulled out to sea and tied to buoys since they began fishing lobster through the band's ceremonial food licence, set to expire Nov. 14.

St. Peter's Canal, located in the village of St. Peter's, connects the southwestern waters of Bras d'Or Lake to the Atlantic Ocean.
In lobster fishing areas 27 to 30, the area of dispute that stretches from Cape Breton's northern tip of Cape North to its southeast coast in the Strait of Canso, fishermen operating a commercial lobster fishery set 158,250 traps. The five First Nations bands in Cape Breton split a small quota of 1,250 traps, including Chapel Island's 250.

The media reports mention that these incidents have been ongoing "in recent weeks". With no one being arrested or charged, they go on immediately to implicate "non-Native" fishermen as the culprits.

For example, The Chronicle-Herald, the province's main daily newspaper, reported the anxiety of the Chapel Island community and then followed it immediately with characterisations of a rapidly-unfolding full-scale "race war". The claim is put forward that "non-native commercial fishermen who ply the same waters, but at other times of year, are upset natives are harvesting 250 traps and collecting hundreds of pounds of lobsters a day to feed the community's 700 residents"*. What is completely missing in this scenario is the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and its well-known behind-the-scenes role in rendering it almost impossible for representatives of the native and commercial sections of the fishery to meet and deliberate on these issues without first going through DFO.

One of the favourite themes recycled by DFO officials to lobster fishermen, that "the Mi'kmaq are damaging stocks because lobster moult and are easier to catch now because they're aggressively eating for winter", is blandly repeated as something that is common knowledge among the fishermen of Cape Breton. This is the Canadian state through its fisheries department inciting communal warfare among native and non-native communities under the pretence of "conservation."

The media go on immediately to implicate non-Native fishermen as the culprits
Attempting to deflect any questioning of the government's role in these matters, the media report that the RCMP "suspect" that it's all the work of "a few hot-heads". It trots this out as the authoritative explanation of who or what might be responsible for "the mischief [sic] directed against Chapel Island." A local RCMP spokesman is quoted, insisting that "We still don't know who did this."

Mysteriously in the same breath, it turns out, however, that it's not just a few hotheads, because "now, similar tensions have surfaced but among younger generations in Richmond County", namely: incidents at a local school where non-native students were shunning native students and the latter's parents withdrew their children from classes.

What Marshall represented

The 1999 Marshall Decision by the Supreme Court of Canada - against the DFO's arrest of Donald Marshall Jr. of illegal fishing charges - acknowledged an inherent aboriginal treaty right covered by the Covenant Chain of Treaties of 1752-1761 to hunt and fish for commerce to "a reasonable livelihood." Before Marshall, the Supreme Court had confirmed the Aboriginal right of some East Coast tribes to harvest solely for food and ceremonial purposes. Marshall II sanctioned the Crown's prerogative, i.e., its veto power exercised through rules and regulations under the federal Fisheries Act, to limit these rights provided they can be justified for the purposes of "conservation" or substantial public objectives such as fairness. In other words, the Court recognized a treaty right but neither the right-to-be as a sovereign right nor the inherent right to develop the means of exercising "a reasonable livelihood" by which they can be. All the rights to choose are also thus vested under the DFO and its administration of the inland and ocean fisheries.

"Divide and conquer" strategy

It aimed to transform aboriginal title and rights into contractual or treaty rights and reduce nation-to-nation treaties to domestic agreements, where the Government of Canada has full control of the rights and title of First Nation's individual communities
Ever since then, the DFO has been engineering, through government-sponsored "negotiations" between native and non-native fishermen's groups, to take away everything that First Nations initiated in line with the Marshall Decision in the name of "conserving the resource", while refusing to negotiate on a nation-to-nation basis. It aims to transform aboriginal title and rights into contractual or treaty rights and reduce nation-to-nation treaties to domestic agreements, where the Government of Canada has full control of the rights and title of First Nation's individual communities. Its aim remains the same, to adapt the colonial legacy to modern conditions and divide the people of the Maritimes on a racial basis, or what Harper calls a "race-based fishery." Through the monopoly media, a widespread grudge has been systematically promoted throughout the Maritimes for the past seven years that the Mi'kmaqs will reap benefits from the government, while the small and poor fishermen will have to pay the bill for Canada's colonial obligations and its fiduciary responsibilities towards the First Nations.

DFO]s method is to insert itself as the guarantor of whatever its representatives allow the native and non-native representatives to agree to in "tripartite" "consultations" "consistent with the Department's management approach."

Taking advantage of the poverty of the Mi'kmaq, DFO began pressuring Mi'kmaq bands to sign three-year deals and "framework agreements" sweetened by grants, loans, new fishing equipment and training to in exchange for (1) conditions restricting when natives can fish and requiring them to have proper DFO tags; as well as for (2) their renunciation of any future claims to resource rights, land (including the seabed, especially of the Gulf of St. Lawrence) and governance - the right to self determination.

DFO was especially keen to overturn and discredit the decisions and financial arrangements to purchase boats and gear for collective use which almost all the 30 bands in the Maritime provinces undertook in the wake of Marshall during 1999 and 2000. The First Nations, for their part, resisted this tactic from the outset.

The Esgeno?petitj First Nation (Burnt Church) in northeastern New Brunswick and Indian Brook First Nation in Nova Scotia insisted on their aboriginal rights, their own tags, their own fisheries plans, etc. They thus became a key target for DFO, the RCMP and CSIS, given that other First Nation bands wanted to see these disputes settled before signing anything. Canada used force and violence, rather than settling the dispute through negotiation.

The Mi'kmaq videotaped , later used for television broadcast and incorporated into the National Film Board documentary "Is the Crown at war with us?", blatant state terrorist attacks by the RCMP and DFO on the mean and women fishers of the Esgeno?petitj, the destruction of their boats, and the forcible destruction and confiscation of 3-4,000 of their traps in Miramichi Bay. The monopoly media systematically portrayed this as a racial conflict, hiding the hand of the state and the monopoly processors. Mi'kmaq fishers were arrested and sentenced in the name of "law and order", "the rule of law" and "conservation" while DFO and its "non-native" agents were granted impunity.

In the ensuing six years DFO has employed another tactic: promote that the Mi'kmaq form corporations as a means of privatizing the resource, extinguishing Aboriginal title and rights, and creating public opinion against "throwing money at the Natives," that is, "corruption."

Precisely such a private corporation was hatched by DFO at the Indian Brook First Nation, after inciting the overthrow of a chief and band council in 2004 who would not play along with DFO's plan.

Two years later, the Chronicle-Herald and the CBC are now relating sensational "discoveries" of "massive corruption" in the band's accounts, amid a scenario in which band councillors excluded from the private venture have blamed the private venture for the discrepancies, and vice-versa. DFO acting on behalf of the federal government is responsible for setting the entire scenario in motion in the first place. A similar "divide and conquer" scenario is being played out in the Tobique reserve of the Maliseet First Nations in New Brunswick over revenues from a gaming casino. Some longtime observers have told Shunpiking that the aim seems to be to prepare public opinion to urge and/or accept the federal government's abdication of further responsibility, so that the burden of band finances is sloughed off onto provincially-based treaty commissions - something that would even more desperately beggar the living conditions of the people. To this end, Canada has established tripartite consultations with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, etc.

Quick strike tactic

These latest racist attacks in the east coast fishery, orchestrated against aboriginal fishing rights by the state play-acting a mediating role between native and non-Native groups, are not fortuitous. Well-aware that the defence of rights by the Six Nations at Caledonia, ON has resonated throughout the country, the Canadian government is seeking to smash or disable this trend with a quick strike in a rural locale, the spiritual centre of the Mi'kmaq, removed from the main centres of population and thus sufficiently isolated and vulnerable that any resistance will be only token and therefore safely ignored.

the government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth
In this particular situation, the government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, DFO spokesman Gus VanHelvoort was quoted in the media declaring that the native fishery will continue until Nov. 14 and both sides will have to talk over the coming months: "there are some management issues that need to be addressed".

On the other hand, "reducing the larger non-native commercial fishery to make room for natives isn't something DFO will consider, although the department acknowledges conservation is its No. 1 priority, followed by aboriginal concerns and, thirdly, the larger commercial interests" or, in other words: aboriginal fishing rights if necessary - but not necessarily aboriginal fishing rights.

VanHelvoort goes so far as to subordinate and liquidate these rights under the guise of saying that rights are only to be recognised at the point where the Cape Breton fishermen agree to give them up: "the right that they (natives) have is to fish on a reasonable level and it's their intention to fish at a reasonable level and we have to sit down with the non-natives . . . on how to integrate this fishery into the overall picture in a way that everyone is comfortable, that everyone is on the same page."

Only by standing together against DFO are the rights of all defended
As proved by the work of the Southwest Fishermens' Rights Association and native fishers in southwest Nova Scotia since the Marshall Decision, in St. Mary's Bay, in the movement of several thousand people against seismic testing by the oil multinationals off the shores of Cape Breton island, and in the collaboration of the Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board and Afton First Nations in the Northumberland Strait, it is only when the fishermen get together without the involvement of the DFO that anything can be worked out. Only by standing together against DFO are the rights of all defended. The DFO's and the media's pathetic latest attempts to incite "race war" on Cape Breton Island are utterly reactionary and unfit for Canadian working people in this day and age. They must not pass! Boldly Say No to DFO!

* All direct quotes are from Tera Camus, "Battle over lobster spreads to schools", The Chronicle-Herald, Mon 23 Oct 06, page B1

Native rights to lobster balanced by science
An Analysis of the Modern Day Treaty Proposal (Self-assimilation)

(1 February 2001) KWEGSI (LLOYD AUGUSTINE), Hereditary Chief/Mi'kmaq Grand Council

Special Issue: Seismic oil and gas testing
(November, 2003) The people's opposition to the plunder of the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Mustard Gas in the Bras d'Or Lakes
(October 2002) BARRY BERNARD

Chapel Island, Island of Renewal
(August, 1999). An island on a lake on an island is bustling with life. SHEENA MASSON

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