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LETTER: Newfoundland and Labrador’s own ‘Trail of Tears’

Men hauling a cod trap in Bonavista in 1988.
Men hauling a cod trap in Bonavista in 1988. - SaltWire File Photo

In 1830 the U.S. government passed The Indian Removal Act in which peaceful tribes of Cherokee, Muskogee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw east of the Mississippi River were forced marched out of their homelands west to Oklahoma and Wyoming Territories.

Thousands died on the 1,800-mile winter journeys from starvation, exposure and hardship. The march became known as “The Trail of Tears.”

Since early in N.L.’s Confederation, governments of Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada have continuously distributed fish licences and quotas to foreign and Canadian fishing fleets to the point today where the species are in sensitive, critical condition, making our fishery a tiny fraction of what it should be.

The overall biomass of fish is at such a level that nature’s biological interdependent relationship of species no longer functions in a healthy collective way for its own sustainability.

The senseless actions of the federal government, whose reason for wanting N.L. to join Canada in the first place was to get control of our resources so they could reap maximum benefit for enriching themselves.

They have, for once, done a superb job, as their policy of greed has been unchecked, and it has destroyed our fishing culture.

Their mismanaged destruction of N.L.’s great fishing resource resulted in the abrogation of N.L. fishers’ adjacency rights and because of it the fishery and the great coastal fisher families are approaching extinction.

Fishers have gradually, systematically, been removed from access and opportunity to fish. Seventy years of decreasing, and removing their right to fish, has had a similar effect on our fisherpeople as the effect on the Indians who were removed from their resource, their land.

In their case a way of life and culture was destroyed, soon our fishers’ way of life will also be gone.

It is true nothing can compare to the tragedy suffered by the Indians on the “Trail of Tears,” but the psychological devastation, loss of personal meaning and family structure, loss of provision and opportunity is the same devastation for N.L. fishers as it was for faith that befell the innocent native peoples of mid-America.

There is no mistake, the destruction of our fishing culture totally occurred because of the hands of the Canadian and N.L. governments ─ the fisherpeople of N.L. are now living their own prolonged, insidious, modern day “Trail of Tears.”

And nobody listens, and nobody cares, about the nefarious, criminal, actions of the federal government that caused it.

Phil Earle,


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