A Prelude: The Peace & Friendship Treaty of 1752.
It is agreed that the said Tribe of Indians shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting & Fishing as usual: and that if they shall think a Truckhouse needful at the River Chibenaccadie or any other place of their resort, they shall have the same built and proper Merchandize lodged therein, to be Exchanged for what the Indians shall have to dispose of, and that in the mean time the said Indians shall have free liberty to bring for Sale to Halifax or any other Settlement within this Province, Skins, feathers, fowl, fish or any other thing they shall have to sell, where they shall have liberty to dispose thereof to the best Advantage.
Just over 20 years ago I was in Canada for a human rights conference and the two main stories surrounding the conference were the abuse of political dissidents by China and then-current attacks on M’kmaw/Mi’kmaq peoples attempting to make a living by hunting, fishing and harvesting according to the rights set out by treaty with the Canadian government. Those rights included the right to a modest living (I believe the court’s language was “moderate”, but I’ll have to check on that) from harvesting lobsters.
Immediately white commercial lobstererers took issue. The white lobster harvesters had dramatically overfished the local waters, and with highly restricted seasons and catch, they saw respecting treaty rights as a threat to their ability to survive.
…And, yes, it was. It still is.
Curiously enough, though, they seemed entirely unable to acknowledge that if the inability to take lobster was a threat to their ability to survive, then white people preventing the M’kmaw from taking sufficient lobster over the course of decades was a threat to the M’kmaw ability to survive. It can’t be a threat to white folks who depend on fishing, but not a threat to the M’kmaw whose entire community depends on fishing.
There was violence and vandalism at the time, but I was only visiting Canada. I wouldn’t move there for more than 10 more years. I looked around at the issue when I moved up north, but things had calmed. I wasn’t clear, but it seems as if tensions had subsided and that they were on the way to a long-term resolution.
That optimistic view hasn’t come to pass. The past few weeks M’kmaw fishing capabilities have been attacked. Lobster traps that are lowered on a line are able to be raised again because the line is attached to a float or small buoy. Just as was done 20 years ago, white people have been out cutting the lines so that M’kmaw trying to earn their own livings, trying to survive, lose both the day’s lobsters AND the money value of the trap itself. The Sipekne’katik First Nation, part of the M’kmaw cultural group of nations, lost 200 traps (or close to) just this season from white vandalism. It’s unknown how many other traps were vandalized by whites in the Canadian maritimes during 2020.
There has been ongoing harassment of the M’kmaw this year, and although the reasons why this year is worse than other years are likely to be complex in ways I don’t understand, we can clearly see that they are worse. About 10 days ago, a M’kmaw fishing boat was destroyed in a suspicious fire. Earlier this week a M’kmaw lobster pound (where live lobsters are kept in tanks and pools while waiting to be sold), was the site of white protests. The protests were unruly and threatening in mood, and not just in a vague way. The RCMP was investigating whether at least some of those threats rose to the level of specificity and immediacy that would make them criminal acts. Also, a commercial van was set on fire during the public part of the protest. Yes. DURING. While the protest was non-violent in the sense of attacking human beings, someone in the group was committing arson. Worse? The 200 or so protesters were not allowing employees and others to leave. From the Vice article:
“They said they won’t let me leave unless they have my lobsters,” [indigenous lobsterman Jason] Marr said in a video posted to his Facebook profile. “The cops are with them, saying that I should leave and let them take my lobsters.”
The RCMP was already being criticized on Wednesday & Thursday for allowing whites to “terrorize” members of the Sipekne’katik nation. Again from Vice:
“Last night I was afraid somebody would die,” said Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack said during a press conference Wednesday, adding police “aren’t doing their job well.”
I don’t know of any violence to people that might have happened at the pound on Tuesday night, but even conceding that this protest was itself peaceful with respect to direct attacks on persons, it was clearly connected to ongoing property destruction and violence. And if that’s as bad as you thought Tuesday night’s protest got, it gets worse. From the CBC article:
“They said they were coming in to take the lobster,” Marr said. “They told us they were going to come in at midnight and burn us out, screaming a lot of different profanities at us.”
That’s right, they were directly threatening to burn the building with Marr and others in it. (I believe his daughters weren’t with him because I think that would have been mentioned in reports, but I am shaken by being unable to confirm that Marr’s daughters who had been with him on the boat harvesting the lobster did not accompany him to the lobster pound.) As if that wasn’t enough, Marr told the CBC about other acts, both destructive and disgusting:
“They slashed the tires. I watched one guy pee in the driver’s seat of my truck. Another guy poured a jug of some antifreeze or something down inside my gas tank. Another guy poured a jug of something down the vents in the heaters of my truck.”
Burning vans, boats mysteriously going up in flames, threats to burn down the pound with people in it, what’s next?
Of course you know what was next: the same lobster pound has been burnt down. It happened just last night. The damage is incredibly severe, though parts of the structure are still standing. I don’t yet know if those portions can be salvaged or if even the parts still currently standing will need to be taken down before a safe structure can be rebuilt. [Update: parts were once standing, but only a small bit and they were bulldozed, presumably for safety, only hours after the fire.] Not only is this a tragic loss, and not only is arson a serious crime, but if you read the Treaty of 1752 it is yet another violation of supposedly guaranteed rights. I have not yet heard a single member of the government cite the freedom to bring lobster for sale guaranteed by treaty as yet another right violated, but it certainly is one.
Despite the obvious implications of having a threatened building burn, Canadian fire & law enforcement are being terribly cautious, saying the fire was “suspicious”. It occurred when the building was empty and was not the result of an industrial accident. What could have been the cause, then, of this fire at a building white people threatened to destroy with fire? The cause of this building, the site of white protests against M’kmaw earning a minimal income, burning down just 3 days after a threatening protest connected to an ongoing campaign of property destruction, what could it be?
Well, I suspect we’ll learn more, but not because the RCMP is good at their jobs. One person was badly burned and is in hospital. Though I haven’t yet found an information about the person’s identity, given that they aren’t identifying this person as an indigenous victim and they were clear no employees of the lobster pound were hurt, what seems to be the most likely relationship between the injured person and the fire is that they were someone participating in the arson, and that they did so stupidly and unsafely, ultimately burning themselves along with the building. Though this shouldn’t be taken to confirm that interpretation, it certainly lends credence to that thinking that the RCMP have labeled the injured person “a person of interest” in the investigation. Though still possibly an innocent witness, my 8-ball points to violent, idiot arsonist.
If my 8-Ball is right, the arsonist’s statements are going to be quite revealing. Even if not, however, Nova Scotia constitutes a picture perfect example of what white terrorism looks like today. Surprisingly enough, it doesn’t much resemble the “peace and friendship” promised in 1752.