Treatment of Mi’kmaw fishers by federal DFO officers compared to Starlight Tour violence by Saskatoon police

Published by Brent Patterson on

Share This Page

Photo: Mi’kmaw protest at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; April 2, 2024.

CBC reports: “Two Mi’kmaw elver fishermen say they were forced to walk in sock feet for hours along a rural Nova Scotia highway in the middle of the night last week after they were detained by federal [Department of Fisheries and Oceans/DFO] officers who took their boots and phones before releasing them [at 1 a.m. at a gas station].”

That article adds: “Blaise Sylliboy [of the Eskasoni First Nation] and Kevin Hartling [Membertou First Nation], who assert they have a treaty right to fish for the lucrative baby eels despite this year’s season being cancelled, were joined Tuesday [April 2] morning by dozens of protesters outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] building in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.”

Photo: Sylliboy and Hartling.

The DFO says: “Fishery officers engaged the RCMP to provide assistance to track down a vehicle suspected to be associated with the individuals. It is standard practice for fishery officers to seize fishing gear related to the commission of alleged infractions, including hip waders, fyke nets and dip nets.”

But Chief Wilbert Marshall of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs says: “Canada speaks of reconciliation and then employs people [at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] who treat our people like this. Keeping quiet on these situations only leads to officers like this feeling like they can get away with their actions. We need to put a spotlight on these disgusting behaviours, so they stop.”

The full statement by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs about this incident can be read here.

Starlight Tours

Hayley Ward adds: “[The DFO] were doing starlight tours essentially.”

A “starlight tour” refers to the situation that may have first come to public attention when the Saskatoon Police Service took a 17-year-old Cree man, Neil Stonechild, to the outskirts of the city in -30 Celsius weather on November 25, 1990, and left him there to walk home. Stonechild froze to death.

Photo: Neil Stonechild.

Mi’kmaq Treaty Rights

As to the treaty right to fish referenced in the CBC article, Ku’ku’kwes News has explained: “The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the [September 17] 1999 Marshall decision that Mi’kmaq, Wolastoq and Peskotomuhkati have a treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from catching and selling fish. That treaty right was guaranteed under the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-61 which was signed between the three Indigenous nations and the British Crown. In a second ruling in November 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a clarification stating that the federal government can regulate the treaty right. However, the ruling stated that the federal government has to justify any limit or infringement on the treaty right as well as consult with the affected Indigenous groups on any plans to infringe or limit the right.”

Photo: Donald Marshall, Jr.

The Supreme Court of Canada decisions in September-November 1999 stemmed from the prosecution of Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaq member of the Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia. In August 1993, he was charged by DFO officers for catching and selling eel without a licence during the fishery’s off-season.

Angela D’Elia Decembrini, a lawyer at First Peoples Law, has commented: “In the 1999 Marshall decision, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that the Mi’kmaq have a constitutionally protected right to fish for a moderate livelihood. This means that, in addition to their right to catch fish, the Mi’kmaq have a constitutionally protected right to sell the fish they catch in order to support themselves.”

Burnt Church

The “Burnt Church Crisis” refers to the period of October 1999 to August 2002 when Mi’kmaq fishers of Esgenoopetitj (the Burnt Church First Nation in New Brunswick) asserted the Treaty rights recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada and experienced violence by non-Native fishermen who destroyed their traps and fishing equipment as well as arrests and seizures of equipment by DFO officers.

The 2002 documentary Is the Crown at War with Us? by filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin tells the story of this conflict.

The National Film Board of Canada description says: “In this feature-length documentary by Alanis Obomsawin, it’s the summer of 2000 and the country watches in disbelief as federal fisheries wage war on the Mi’kmaq fishermen of Burnt Church, New Brunswick. Why would officials of the Canadian government attack citizens for exercising rights that had been affirmed by the highest court in the land? Casting her cinematic and intellectual nets into history to provide context, Obomsawin delineates the complex roots of the conflict with passion and clarity, building a persuasive defence of the Mi’kmaq position.”

To watch the film, click here.

Peace Brigades International

Indigenous fishing rights and the situation at Burnt Church were issues of concern for the Peace Brigades International-North America Project that opened in April 1992 and closed on March 7, 2000.

Today, PBI-Canada continues to follow this with concern.

Share This Page


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *