In the current context, with a call to block the Atlantic provinces in solidarity with the Mi'kmaq fishermen, we think it is appropriate to share this article published in the third issue of the Comité de défense et de décolonisation des territoires newspaper.
Mi’gma’gi is the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq, which extends over five provinces of Canada: Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. The Wolastoqiyik (also called Malecites) also occupied a part of the territory that runs along the Saint John River in New Brunswick, south of the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec. Today, Mi’kmaq communities still primarily live in these five provinces. For three decades, the Mi’kmaq and the Wolastoqiyik have lead multiple struggles against resource extraction and theft on unceded territory.
The federal government’s institution of a system of fishing permits in 1976 prevented the Mi’kmaq from fishing, a practice they have relied on for millennia. The situation changed in 1985 when the Supreme Court decided in favor of James Simon, a Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia who was arrested in in 1981 for having fished during the off-season
During the contemporary struggle cycle, the first confrontation took place in the summer of 1981 in Listiguj between Mi'kmaq fishermen and the Government of Quebec, led by René Levesque. Mi'kmaq fishermen were ordered to remove their salmon nets from the estuary of the Restigouche River. The Mi'kmaq refused. The government then sent 500 SQ police officers to storm the 150 Mi'kmaq fishermen who were simply practicing a traditional activity in their territory, which they had never given over to settlers. The Supreme Court of Canada finally recognized Mi'kmaq rights to fish for salmon in 1993.
A second confrontation also took place in 1993, following the arrest in Nova Scotia of Donald Marshall Jr., who was accused of illegally fishing for eel. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in Marshall’s favor, in effect opening fishing back up to Mi’kmaq. Over the years that followed, a number of conflicts broke out across the Maritimes between settler and Mi’kmaq fishermen.
Since the 1980’s, Mi’kmaq have frequently resorted to civil disobedience in order to defend their right to cut down trees on Crown land in New Brunswick, land that is in theory reserved for the use of native people. Following the arrest of Mi’kmaq lumberjacks, despite the discharges granted in court, reversals of judgments and the negotiation of cutting agreements, the issue is still not resolved, as the arrest of the aforementioned Mi'kmaq lumber-jacks made clear. In 2014, the chiefs of seven Band Councils required that the forestry companies (primarily Irving) reduce their logging on Crown land (which comprises 77% of the forest).
Between 2002 and 1999, Mi’kmaq fishermen faced prolonged confrontations with their white counterparts and the RCMP in Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church), in the North of New Brunswick, as well as in Yarmouth, in Nova Scotia. This became known as the “lobster war.” The Mi’kmaq claimed the right to fish for lobster out of season according to traditional practices, but the government jealously guarded the control over the collection of these crustaceans. The tight hold the government kept over permits only increased the tensions between Mi’kmaq and whites, as well as between fishermen and underpaid workers at the fish processing factories. Agreements were drawn up allowing Mi’kmaq to fish during the off season.
Over time, bitterness developed surrounding the question of whether their special rights were legitimate or not. New cross-provincial political ties were formed between Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik communities, as well as with other native groups across Turtle Island. Among these new political initiatives/// was the reappearance of a Warrior Society, formed to protect the territories and the rights of the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik.
In 2012, the Wolastoqiyik began to organize to block the Texas gas company SWN from starting a new project on their territory. In 2013, the company began surveying on Mi’kmaq territory near Elsipogtog in new Brunswick. Mi’kmaq and settler allies blocked access to the site for several months. After a camp was set up to block the access road of surveying vehicles, 400 agents of the RCMP were dispatched to the scene. After a long confrontation, they succeeded in dislodging the blockade. The provincial government was driven from power by widespread opposition to fracking from both native and settler communities.
The newly-elected government announced a ban on fracking, putting which effectively put an end to the activities of SWN that had threatened the community of Elsipogtog. But in September 2018, New Brunswick’s newly-elected conservative government put an end to this ban and promised a revival of the fracking industry. Directly following the battle over fracking in 2013, the Elsipogtog Band council had demanded that the return of the territory of Siknuktuk, crown land in southern New Brunswick belonging to the Mi’kmaq Nation. This demand in still waiting to be heard in court.
In Spring 2017, the battle against fracking once again took center stage, this time in the Mi’kmaq territory of Gespe'gewa'gi (Gaspesie). A convergence of settler environmental activists and Mi’kmaq formed around the River Camp, whose purpose was to block the activities of Junex, a petroleum extraction company. The camp received the support of the traditional Council of the Seventh District and of it’s Chief, Gary Metallic. This camp, which held strong for over a year, marked the beginning of a convergence between anarchist, ecological and indigenous struggles.
Since spring 2017, Mi’kmaq activists have been fighting Alton Gas in Nova Scotia. The company hopes to create a natural gas storage area in the salt mines at Brentwood, in Mi’kmaq territory. This storage area threatens to contaminate aquifers and may expel vast quantities of salt into the Sipekni'katik River. In response, Mi’kmaq set up a Treaty Truck House (provided for in 18th century peace and friendship treaties between Mi’kmaq and the British Crown), and built a house with a garden to block access to this project. Meanwhile, the supreme court of Nova Scotia--siding with Alton Gas--granted an injunction to the company in April 2019. Activists weathered a first attack on April 9 of this year, during which three elders were arrested by the RCMP. Resistance to this most recent attack is gathering as we speak.
Beyond the sequence of struggles listed here, there are several other struggles that do not necessarily involve the police that are ongoing in the Mi'kmaq and Wolastoqiyik territories. The list of situations described in this text mainly concerns struggles against extraction and is not exhaustive. However, it is important to remember that the Mi'kmaq and Wolastoqiyik must fight daily on all fronts for the right to exist.