Leadership of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) have joined the growing chorus of Indigenous governments speaking out against the violence inflicted on Mi’kmaq lobster harvests in Nova Scotia.
In an Oct. 20 press release, the IRC affirmed its support for the Sipekne’katik First Nation to exercise their right to fish, noting all Indigenous people in Canada have an inherent right to harvest natural resources to sustain themselves.
“Canada is built on treaties between Indigenous Peoples and others who now reside in Canada. Many people are unaware of how treaties function, the Constitution and the specific rights Indigenous peoples have within their respective treaties and the Constitution,” IRC president Duane Ningaqsiq Smith told NNSL Media. “IRC does not take its role lightly and was hopeful the Mi’kmaq, the provincial government and commercial fishers association would be able to resolve the matter in a way that upheld the Treaty and Indigenous rights of the Mi’kmaq.
“Unfortunately, it has taken a turn for the worse and Mi’kmaq are being attacked for exercising their rights. If the federal government cannot protect Indigenous people who are exercising their most basic rights, the right to earn a livelihood doing what they have done since time immemorial, that should be troubling for all Indigenous peoples in Canada.”
Smith said the IRC was concerned about how both the Department of Fisheries and Ocean and the Nova Scotia RCMP have not been able to prevent violent attacks against Mi’kmaq lobster fishers, who have in recent weeks found themselves trapped inside buildings by violent mobs, as well as physically attacked and having their catch burned by angry commercial fishermen and their supporters.
Noting the current situation “suggests that Canada does not value even the most clearly-defined Indigenous Rights,” Smith said IRC was calling on the RCMP and DFO to deploy as many resources as needed to quell the violence and let the Mi’kmaq harvest lobster.
He also said there needed to be a cross-government effort to educate Canadians on exactly what the treaties signed with First Nations actually mean in terms of what can be done with land, resources and other assets in their territories.
“Canadians need to understand that the treaties are a relationship, not an inconvenience or something that can be solved with a few small programs,” he said. “Governments and their initiatives come and go, but the Treaties are here to stay. Canada needs to commit to forever set aside the approach that takes Treaties as an afterthought.
“Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls recommendations through a clear action plan is an important step towards this, but it is only the first steps to reconciliation.
“Governments need to stop assuming that things will always end in disaster when Indigenous people practice self-determination and exercise their inherent right to make decisions about their own affairs.”
Standing with the Mi’kmaq was important to the IRC, said Smith, because the Inuvialuit also had to fight a long battle to regain control of their fishing rights and said even though the situation has improved, the IRC still battled systematic racism in Canada.
“Under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, Inuvialuit have a say over how fishing is managed in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region,” he said. “Before 1984, governments did whatever they wanted. Today, while they are required to consult with Inuvialuit on some things, there are still many outsiders imposing their will and their way on Indigenous people.
“The GNWT, which was imposed on Inuvialuit and other Indigenous people in the NWT, has failed to deal with its systemic racism problem. This is a matter of simple math: 51 per cent of NWT residents are Indigenous, yet only 30 per cent of GNWT employees are. Ten years ago, it was 32%. This is despite there being an affirmative action policy in the GNWT.
“There is no explanation for this other than systemic racism.”