Boycott lobster imports not caught by Mi’kmaq fishers, Assembly of First Nations says

Canada’s First Nations are calling for a boycott of all imports of Maritime lobster and lobster products that are not harvested by Mi’kmaq fishers.

Kevin Hart, the Manitoba regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has reached out to the European Union, urging them to support the Mi’kmaw moderate livelihood fishery.

“Canadian exports of lobster to Europe are worth about $175 million per year. A European trade boycott of non-Indigenous lobster in support of the treaty rights of Mi’kmaq fishers would be consistent with the European Parliament’s resolution to respect and support the rights and personal safety of Indigenous people,” Hart said.

“A European boycott of non-Indigenous Canadian lobster imports will show Canada, Nova Scotia and the non-Indigenous fishers that there is zero tolerance in Europe for violence against Indigenous peoples.”

A horse spirit ride leaves the RCMP headquarters in Winnipeg for the Manitoba Legislative Building on Wednesday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The dispute between commercial lobster fishermen and Mi’kmaq fishermen has led to violence and unrest in southwest Nova Scotia, with commercial fishermen there objecting to Mi’kmaq boats fishing out of season, saying it could harm lobster stocks.

A landmark 1999 Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of First Nations people on Canada’s East Coast to earn a “moderate livelihood” from fishing, though that term has never been defined.

Commercial fishers who say the fishery is illegal have pushed back on the move, with facilities that store lobster caught by Mi’kmaq fishers targeted and vandalized.

Hart’s comments were made in a news release Wednesday afternoon as Indigenous leaders in Manitoba condemned the RCMP for not doing enough to keep the peace between the two groups. 

Manitoba Indigenous leaders walk along Portage Avenue to the legislative building. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A drum song and prayer at the RCMP D Division on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg preceded a ceremonial horse spirit ride to the Manitoba Legislative Building on Wednesday, where the Indigenous leaders gathered to show solidarity with the Mi’kmaq fishers.

“I want to send out a message to our friends and relatives, our brothers and sisters, on the East Coast, I want you to know that you are in our thoughts,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said during a Facebook Live event before the gathering at the RCMP building.

“We will amplify this issue, we will bring it forward. There needs to be some meaningful discussion and conversation.”

A landmark 1999 Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of First Nations people on Canada’s East Coast to earn a ‘moderate livelihood’ from fishing, but that term has never been defined. (CBC)

The Facebook event, called “The federal government’s abject failure: First Nation fishing rights discussed,” also included Sen. Murray Sinclair, who spoke critically about the RCMP’s lack of protection for the Mi’kmaq.

He said videos showed violent, racist behaviour by the commercial fishers against Mi’kmaq people while RCMP stood by.

“If we are a nation of laws, then the highest law in this country is the Constitution, and our Constitution recognizes and affirms the treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq people to conduct themselves in accordance to their fishing rights under those treaties,” said Sinclair, a former judge who was chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Sinclair said he has also expressed his disappointment in messages to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the RCMP.