Facing intimidation and aggression from Nova Scotia fishermen over a Mi’kmaq lobster fishery, Indigenous people resorted to an age-old tactic — humour.
Memes began popping up on Twitter and Facebook last week in support of Sipekne’katik First Nation’s “moderate livelihood” fishery, said Bryson Syliboy, who grew up in the community.
“A lot of Indigenous people use humour as a source of wrapping their minds around trauma or large events in our lives. And we’ve been through a lot,” Syliboy told HuffPost Canada.
He and two other activists saw an opportunity to spread more awareness about the dispute and educate Canadians about Mi’kmaq treaty rights in a light-hearted way. They began the #MikmawMemeContest.
“We decided to do the contest because humour gives us a means of de-escalation and a way to think about how the situation is being presented on both sides,” Syliboy said.
The dispute began a few weeks ago when the Mi’kmaq community launched a small fishery, distributing seven licences to fishing boats for a total of 350 traps. There are a total of 979 inshore lobster licences issued for that region of Nova Scotia.
Under treaty rights, Mi’kmaq are allowed to fish without restrictions. A 1999 Supreme Court ruling upheld that right. Last week, the federal government recognized their constitutionally protected right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood, following a meeting between community leaders and the minister of fisheries.
Watch: Nova Scotia First Nation launches lobster fleet as wharf tensions escalate. Story continues below.
Non-Indigenous fishermen claim it’s illegal for Mi’kmaw fishermen to catch lobster during the off-season. They’ve confiscated Mi’kmaq traps, protested at the wharf and on the water, and used other intimidation tactics, in the name of conservation.
“They’re misdirecting their anger at something that’s an inherent right,” said Syliboy. “They’ve got to worry more about commercial fishing — the large companies that fish throughout the whole year.”
Dalhousie University’s biology department said in a statement that “there is no credibility on biological grounds to the conservation concerns, given the terms of the fishery.”
The deadline for the meme contest is this weekend.
Entries poke fun at the shoddy track record of white settlers at conserving resources and respecting Indigenous rights.