First Nations block Victoria highway in solidarity with Nova Scotia Indigenous fishers
VICTORIA -- Vancouver Island First Nations blockaded a major highway north of Victoria Friday in solidarity with the Indigenous lobster fishers of Nova Scotia.
The W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations of Tsartlip, Tseycum and Tsawout supported a shutdown of the Pat Bay Highway at Mount Newton Cross Road from noon to 1 p.m.
Approximately 50 people marched from the Tsawout office to the highway. Central Saanich Police were on scene to ensure public safety throughout the blockade.
The blockade was called as violence has escalated in Nova Scotia fishing communities, culminating in the burning of a fish plant and destruction of a Mi’kmaq lobster catch last week.
Tsawout hereditary chief Eric Pelkey spoke before a circle of protesters on the highway.
“We come here today stand up in brotherhood with the Mi’kmaq,” Pelkey said. “As soon as a plane lands or ferry lands, they land in our territory and most of our neighbours here don’t even know about our people."
Police put detours in place and the highway was closed between Island View Road and Amity Drive. Officers are advising travellers to plan for delays or take alternate routes, including Wallace Road or West Saanich Road.
“Mi’kmaq land defenders are requesting that people lift their pipes and light their medicines, and are calling for groups to gather in support of Mi’kmaq inherent rights,” reads a social media post calling for the Pat Bay Highway blockade.
Central Saanich Police Chief Ian Lawson said the department had been planning for the protest since Wednesday and was anticipating at least 15 to 20 participants.
Lawson said the department was working with the RCMP in Sidney/North Saanich, as well as maintenance workers from Emcon, municipal workers and the province to provide traffic control.
“In any demonstration, our actions will be dictated by the actions of participants or the public,” Lawson said.
BC Ferries operators were also notified of the shutdown and its potential effects on a 12:40 p.m. sailing from Swartz Bay.
In February, Indigenous protesters blockaded the highway in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.