Statement by the York University Indigenous Council regarding the Mi’kmaq fishers


October 16, 2020

Dear members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation & our broader community,

The Indigenous Council of York University calls on Prime Minister Trudeau to intervene, recognize the modest traditional fishery affirmed by Canada’s Supreme Court, and to stop the violence of the commercial fishermen. We affirm our support for the Mi'kmaq fishers of Sipekne'katik First Nation who are facing significant levels of racist violence from Nova Scotia commercial fishermen in their attempts to make a living through lobster fishing, an inherent right affirmed through the Peace and Friendship Treaties, and then reaffirmed by the 1999 Supreme Court Marshall decision.

Twenty-one years ago, the landmark Marshall decision affirmed that Mi’kmaq People had a right to achieve a “moderate livelihood” through fishing, to alleviate the impoverishment they have faced since being forced from the fishery by commercial interests for over a century. At that time, after that decision, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans criminalized the attempt of the people of Esgenoopetitj First Nation to sell lobster, forcing them into a narrow licensing system that ignored the rights affirmed in Marshall. For twenty-one years since then, Mi’kmaq First Nations have sought to negotiate for the right to a traditional fishery, practiced on the scale that they can accommodate. Ultimately, they have begun to practice their own modest licensing system, and have provided seven fishers with 40 traps each. The commercial fishermen, who practice large-scale harvesting of lobster, involving hundreds of thousands of traps, have launched a campaign of violence against them, blocking their access to the water, and forcing those out on the water to retreat to shore through forming flotillas of large boats advancing on them and firing flares at them; some have narrowly escaped being set on fire this way. The RCMP have proven ineffective or unwilling to stop the violence, turning a blind eye to much of it.

At stake are the abilities of an Indigenous People to alleviate poverty by fishing in the modest and sustainable manner that they have been doing for thousands of years. Other Mi’kmaq First Nations have announced their plans to develop their own licencing system to enable their community members to fish on a similarly modest scale.

Wel’alioq, Meegwetch, Niawan, Nya:weh ko;wa, Hiy hiy

The Indigenous Council York University

We recognize that many Indigenous Nations have longstanding relationships with the territories upon which York University campuses are located that precede the establishment of York University. York University acknowledges its presence on the traditional territory of many Indigenous Nations. The area known as Tkaronto has been care taken by the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat. It is now home to many First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities. We acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. This territory is subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement to peaceably share and care for the Great Lakes region.

For media inquiries: Gloria Suhasini, York University Media Relations, 647-463-4354,