Attacks on Mi'kmaq treaty fishing ===========================

Burnt Church


Chronology of key events leading to this conflict
Backgrounder on the Situation in the Mi'kmaq Community of Esgenoopetitj
Don't believe it's calm from Uphold Aboriginal Land and Treaty Rights
Gunboat Diplomacy in Canada
Judge's Ruling Unmuddies the Waters
Boyhood pals rock boat on Miramichi Bay
CBC's Kelly Ryan: covering the dispute
Amherst, Nova Scotia - July 25, 2000

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2000 : [ Sept. 26th - Nov. ] [ Sept. 23rd - 25th ] [ Sept. 20th - 22nd ] [ Sept.  1st-19th ] [ August ]
Military actions against First Nations, 1995 ] [ Links to First Nations news, Canada ]
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The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, House of Commons
Dept of Fisheries and Oceans, Parliament Buildings Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, KIA OA6
Fax: (613) 941-6900



As Mi'kmaq fishermen defy federal fisheries officials and Bob Rae attempts to resolve the standoff, U.S. activists say there are lessons to be learned from their experience


Toronto Globe and Mail Commentary
Thursday, September 14, 2000

We in Wisconsin have been been following the Mi'kmaq treaty conflict at Burnt Church, N.B., very closely. The Maritimes dispute has close echoes of the intense conflict over Chippewa (Ojibwa) spearfishing in northern Wisconsin in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If you substitute "walleye" for "lobsters" it all sounds regrettably familiar.

There are 861 lakes in Wisconsin where the highly prized walleyed pike spawn in the territory the Chippewa ceded to the American government in the 19th century -- roughly the northern third of the state. Sport fishermen take much of the catch and that's a major source of the regional economy. After a 1983 federal court decision upholding Ojibwa rights to fish for walleye in traditional fishing grounds before the sport season opened, there was outrage among non-natives.

Militant anti-treaty groups began to carry signs reading "Spear an Indian -- Save a Walleye." Some state political leaders inflamed public opinion with their claim that the Ojibwa (who never took more than 3 per cent of the walleye) would "rape" the fishery, and they tried, unsuccessfully, to divide Ojibwa bands from each other.

Throughout the late 1980s Wisconsin anti-treaty mobs committed numerous acts of violence -- including rock-throwing, swamping of Ojibwa boats, death threats, and pipe bombings. Riot-clad police and National Guard helicopters were deployed at the lakes, and Witnesses for Nonviolence monitored harassment of Ojibwa spearfishers and their families. A federal court injunction eventually prevented anti-Indian groups from harassing Ojibwa as they were merely exercising their rights.

The major difference between Wisconsin and New Brunswick is that here in the States it was the anti-Indian citizen or vigilante groups that swamped the native boats and threatened fishermen's lives. At Burnt Church it has seemed that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has taken on this role. Seeing the DFO's actions on our TV has seriously undermined many Americans' image of Canada as a "peaceful" and "inclusive" society -- an image that we value as a counterpoint to our sometimes violent and intolerant society.

The environmentalist facade of Wisconsin anti-treaty groups fell away in the early 1990s when mining companies such as Noranda and Rio Algom started coming into the north woods looking for metallic sulfide minerals. This type of mining can release sulfuric acid into trout streams. For a while, the

anti-treaty groups still chose to blame the Ojibwa for all rural environmental and economic problems. But many other non-Indian fishing groups began to get wise. They made an effort to understand the history of the treaties, the tribal respect for the environment, and the threat that metallic sulfide mines would pose to fishing by natives and non-natives alike.

These fishing groups and the tribes began to realize that instead of arguing over the fish, they could come together to protect the fish from a common outside threat. Today, Wisconsin has a strong inter-ethnic alliance of tribes, fishing groups, and environmentalists opposed to metallic sulfide mining, particularly Rio Algom's proposed Crandon mine next to the Mole Lake Ojibwe Reservation. The alliance has won some victories to protect the fisheries by throwing the mining companies out of Wisconsin.

Just as, in Wisconsin, anti-treaty groups focused more attention on the Ojibwa than on the mining companies, the DFO focuses more attention on lobster harvested by one Mi'kmaq band than on the numerous environmental threats to the entire North Atlantic ecology. We trust that the people of the Maritimes and the rest of Canada will also get wise to this new anti-aboriginal campaign as a diversion from the real environmental problems facing marine life. After all, they face human beings of all nationalities.

Just as Wisconsin state officials attempted to "lease" treaty rights from Ojibwa bands, provincial and federal officials hope that all Mi'kmaq bands will sign away their rights in return for peace. But peace is shortlived in the absence of justice. Isolating or criminalizing aboriginal leaders only divides and destabilizes aboriginal bands, and undermines chances for peace. Besides, in Wisconsin, yesterday's tribal "renegades" have become today's respected tribal government leaders. And the Ojibwa can finally fish in peace.

Wisconsin Indians and rural whites have found they had more in common with each other than they had with government or corporate officials. Now the neighboring communities of the Maritimes need to search for local solutions without outside interference or manipulation. Scapegoating the First Nations lobster fishermen does not address the sources of the economic crisis affecting all fishing people in the region. Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal has only exacerbated a physical conflict between two communities that are both going through hard times; in our view, he should resign.

The assertion of Wisconsin Ojibwa treaty rights in the short term created conflict between natives and non-natives, but in the long term it helped to build cultural understanding, economic cooperation, and a common environmental identity. The treaties became a key legal tool to protect natural resources, and reservation sovereignty became a political lever to gain economic development for natives and non-natives alike.

One important difference between Wisconsin -- or your Oka crisis -- in 1990 and Burnt Church in 2000 is the widespread use of the Internet. No native Web sites existed a decade ago; today there are thousands. The Mi'kmaq are able to get their perspective heard, and people around the world concerned about human and sovereign rights are listening. Here in the States we join the many voices urging a peaceful resolution of the tense situation in Burnt Church and the rest of the Maritimes, and an honourable recognition of Mi'kmaq treaty rights.

Debra McNutt, Andrew Gokee and Zoltan Grossman are members of the board of the Midwest Treaty Network, a native/non-native alliance supporting tribal sovereignty in the Western Great Lakes region:


Midwest Treaty Network
P.O. Box 14382, Madison WI 53714-4382 USA
Tel./Fax (608) 246-2256


With Lobster Dispute

By the Canadian Press, A P
September 26, 2000

Chronology of key events leading to this summer's conflict between the Canadian fisheries department and Indians from the Burnt Church reservation in New Brunswick:

Sept. 17, 1999: Supreme Court of Canada rules Indians have treaty right to fish, hunt and gather.

Oct. 3: Roughly 3,000 Indian lobster traps destroyed in New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay after 150 non-Indian fishermen take to water.

April 27, 2000: Spring lobster fishery opens in Miramichi Bay without a deal between Burnt Church band and Ottawa.

Aug. 9: Residents of reservation vote to manage their own lobster fishery with 1,500 traps.

Aug. 11: Federal fisheries officers begin pulling out traps.

Aug. 14: Indians set up fiery blockade on road to reserve; allege their boats are being rammed by fisheries officers.

Aug. 22: Fisheries officer injured by thrown rock during confrontation with Micmac fishermen.

Aug. 28: Federal Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault visits reservation, but abruptly leaves meeting to jeering from Indians.

Aug. 29: Fisheries officers launch raid on Indian lobster traps, two Indian boats swamped and sunk.

Sept. 12: Sixteen Indians, including Burnt Church chief, arrested and four Indian boats seized.

Sept. 18: Former Ontario premier Bob Rae, mediator in the standoff, sets 24-hour deadline to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Sept. 19: Agreement to have Indian leaders and federal officials conduct a count of Indian traps in the bay quickly falls apart.

Sept. 20: Commercial fishermen reject alleged financial offer from Ottawa of between $10,000 to $12,000 each to not haul Indian traps from Miramichi Bay. Rae leaves reserve.

Sept. 21: Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal declares the lobster fishery in Miramichi closed and gives Indians a 24-hour deadline to remove their lobster traps.

Sept. 22: Non-Indian boat struck by a bullet fired from another vessel as fisheries officials remove 113 lobster traps in pre-dawn raid.

Sept. 23: Three non-Indians arrested and firearms seized after shots fired on water. No one hurt. Officers remove about 800 traps.

Sept. 25: Shots ring out over waters as fisheries officials seize lobster traps. No one hurt. Indian boats chase away department vessels.

Sept. 26: Fisheries officials seize traps as they are pursued by Indian boats.


Backgrounder on the Situation in the
Mi'kmaq Community of Esgenoopetitj

(Burnt Church, New Brunswick)


Mi'Kmaq people have been fishing the Miramichi Bay from time immemorial. Currently, they seek to continue to manage that ecosystem in a sustainable manner and, at the same time, provide for their families from that resource. Despite a recent Supreme Court decision affirming their Treaty Rights to make a moderate living from fishing, they are threatened by constant Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) interference and harassment in their fishery. On the bay, tensions and divisions between the Mi'Kmaq, Acadian and English communities and lack of leadership from DFO in building a co-operative solution could lead to a breakdown of the situation and violence, such as was experienced in the area last fall.


The Government of Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must co-operate with the Mi'Kmaq First Nation community in Esgenoopetitij. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans must recognize the legitimacy of tags issued by the Esgenoopetitj First Nation.


The Canadian Constitution entrenches Aboriginal and Treaty Rights within Canadian law. In September, 1999, the Marshall decision of the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the Treaty Right of Aboriginal peoples to make a moderate livelihood from fishing, hunting and gathering. In October, the people of Esgenoopetitj attempted to exercise their Treaty Rights by fishing for lobster. Non-native fishermen responded by cutting lines and destroying $210,000 worth of traps belonging to the people of Esgenoopetitj. The DFO and RCMP took no action to prevent destruction of property or violence directed towards people. The situation was tense, with fishermen ramming boats and threatening each other with firearms. Two Mi'kmaq men were seriously injured during an altercation. The people of Esgenoopetitj were afraid and felt very isolated.

In the wake of this, a clarification of the Marshall decision was drafted by the judges who held the minority opinion in the original decision. This clarification gave the Government of Canada the authority to limit Treaty Rights, provided that the limitations can be justified for the purposes of conservation or substantial public objectives such as economic fairness. Following this, DFO limited the number of Esgenoopetitj traps to 600 and began to confiscate traps.

This spring, DFO proposed fisheries agreements to each of the 35 bands in Atlantic Canada. The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs examined the template of the agreement and the potential implications that it could have on future court decisions on the issue of Treaty Rights and advised bands not to sign. However, DFO is offering substantial amounts of money and benefits to bands (offers are as high as $22 million per band). The agreements give DFO the regulatory power and limit the amount of traps in return for boats, equipment and cash. Although the agreements are for communal licenses, in many cases the benefits of the agreements will flow to only a few people in the First Nations community. Many reserves have become divided due to the approach DFO has taken with these agreements. To date, according to DFO, approximately half of the bands have pending or signed agreements.

In Burnt Church, the community held a number of meetings. As a community, they determined that they were not willing to risk their Treaty Rights. They decided to develop their own fisheries policy and management plan. The primary objectives of the policy are to protect Treaty Rights, protect the fishery and the ecosystem and to maximize collective benefits for all members of the community. The community and the Band Council accepted the policy and the plan and prepared to regulate their fishery through permits and treaty tags.

Under the Esgenoopetitj First Nation Management Plan, any member of the community who wants to fish, can fish. Any limitations needed for conservation purposes, will be placed first upon those fishing the maximum number of traps. The maximum lobster fishery under the management plan is 15,000 traps. If DFO determines that the zone (LFA-23) cannot handle the additional fishing pressure, they could reduce the number of traps by 15,000 through either a withdrawal of 15 traps from the 300 allotted to each commercial fisherman within the zone, perhaps with compensation for each trap, or through a buy-out program, such as DFO is currently pursuing.

The Band anticipates that, in actuality, their spring fishery will be approximately 5000 traps. This would reduce fishing pressure in the zone by 10,000 traps. As the Mi'Kmaq have traditionally fished in the fall when the lobster are close to shore, the Band will permit a fall fishery. The management plan clearly addresses the conservation concerns raised by the Supreme Court clarification.

Despite the community and Band Council decision to regulate their own fishery, DFO used divide and conquer tactics and issued "communal" tags to 13 Esgenoopetitj commercial fishermen. Subsequently, DFO announced that any Treaty tags would not be recognized and threatened to seize boats and equipment that did not have DFO issued tags.

The community is still firm in its resolve and has been exercising its Treaty Rights by putting out traps. DFO has been seizing the traps. This places the community in a difficult position. DFO is acting outside of their authority as established by the Supreme Court decision, but the community does not have the resources to take DFO to court. If the community accepts the DFO position, they will be accepting an infringement upon their recently re-affirmed Treaty Right. If they continue to put out traps with Treaty Tags, the conflict may escalate.

The situation in the St. Mary's Bay area of Nova Scotia offers a striking counterpoint to the Esgenoopetitj situation. The local bands and non-native fishing organizations have defied DFO and developed the St. Mary's Bay Working Group. The Working Group is looking at management options and developing a joint management plan for St. Mary's Bay. The members of the Working Group include; Fundy Fixed Gear Association, Maritime Fishermen's Union - Local 9, Marine Resource Centre, Annapolis Valley First Nation, Bear River First Nation, Acadia First Nation and the Mi'Kmaq Fish and Wildlife Commission. Similar to Esgenoopetitj, the 3 involved First Nation Bands have resolved not to sign DFO agreements despite heavy pressure from DFO. In Nova Scotia, for the past 3 years bands have been using both band tags and Mi'Kmaq Fish and Wildlife Commission tags although, at this point, no one is fishing with only First Nation tags for fear of their traps being disturbed.

For more information contact the Future Forest Alliance, (506) 433-6101

May 12, 2000



Update on Burnt Church:

From: Uphold Aboriginal Land and Treaty Rights


(Please forward this segment to all in solidarity with Burnt Church.)

The situation remains critically tense at Burnt Church. Many traps HAVE been removed. However, there is still considerable resistance within the community to allowing the DFO to remove any more.

A recent press release from non-Native observers states that they have seen no guns in evidence since the beginning of their support effort there a year ago. The conclusion derived from this news is chilling: the considerable media about weaponry and the possibility of an armed confrontation may be yet another SET-UP to project the image of Aboriginal Rights activists as violent, militant and unreasoning. As we know all too well from Oka, Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash, this media spin is created in order to justify terrible levels of repression that Canadians would never countenance on any other group of people within (or. for that matter, outside) their national borders. It also leads to criminalization of the people who are the victims of the states' human rights abuses - and to death.

If you have not yet written to the government of Canada to express your concern, panic or disgust at what is happening, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO SO:

Prime Minister Chretien Tel: (613) 992-4211; Fax: (613) 941-6900
Minister Dhaliwal Tel: (613) 995-7052; Fax: (613) 995-2962
Minister Nault Tel: (819) 994-7617; Fax: (819) 953-4941

Don't forget to send a copy to the AFN: care of Jean LaRose at

We see that the media are presently toning down their coverage of the events. Do not construe this to mean that things have settled down. Before you believe that, wait to hear from the People of Esgeno�petitj (Burnt Church) directly. Often when the media stories tone down it is truly the calm before the storm. The authorities may feel that they have successfully lulled the Canadian public into thinking that a violent confrontation is inevitable. Having done so, in their estimation, they may simply now be awaiting the best time to strike.

An independent source informed us two days ago that on Saturday night more than 2000 RCMP officers were moved to N.B., including officers connected to Interpol.

From Ipperwash and Gustafsen Lake, we know that the authorities do not spend money and other resources moving around huge battalions of armed officers UNLESS they have a serious plan in gear to USE them. Don't be fooled by the apparent calm. Don't be fooled by the lies coming from mainstream media. Keep your browser tuned to these sites for current information:

In a report uploaded today on, Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (and Chief of the Penticton Indian Band) is currently in Burnt Church. Chief Phillip accuses Fisheries Canada of lying about the number of lobster traps it says it has been seizing in Miramichi Bay. Chief Phillip says it's a tactic he's familiar with because DFO used it when dealing with the Native fishery in B.C.'s Fraser River where he says Fisheries officials issued false reports about the number of nets they said they had seized there. In N.B., Chief Phillip says Fisheries officers have seized traps but not near as many as they claim and, besides, many are from non-Natives. "There's a huge poaching operation going on here. Non-Natives are taking advantage of the situation," he said.

Stay vigilant for human rights in Canada. Keep praying, meditating, booking those tickets to travel down there and give physical support. Send money if you can't go, but use the address on the 'tao' site above: believe it or not, there's a phony site scamming $$.

Above all, folks - KEEP THOSE CARDS AND LETTERS FLOWING. Let Canada know that their path of disrespect, lies, confrontation, violence and cheating will not do. We want a just, peaceful and respectful settlement in line with the principles of sharing and tolerance contained in the original Treaties.

** The ** NEW AFN ** Website **
Check out AFN site ( - the first page you click onto, you'll find Ipperwash & Dudley George! Does it feel good, OR WHAT, to finally see that on the AFN site? Also, if you go into the Burnt Church page, you'll see copies of some of the mail the government's been getting about what is going on down there. Three cool things about this mail: a) there's a lot of it from many different perspectives; b) several letters draw a direct link to Ipperwash so the government is hearing from "us" at the same time; c) a number of these letters come directly from "our" Ipperwash network. These last two points demonstrate the validity of the Coalition's Core Group's perspective and strategy that Ipperwash must be contextualized in a broader analysis and that all these issues are related. Keep up the good work, everyone!

** Advancing the Aboriginal Rights Agenda across Canada **
We face a federal election imminently, and there is no lobby group prepared to address hopeful and incumbent politicians on the intersection between Aboriginal and Canadian issues - from an Aboriginal Rights perspective. At the same time, there is an increasingly organized constituency of disgruntled racists and corporate lackeys, whose goal is to remove Aboriginal Rights issues from the public agenda in any way, shape or form.

It's not just Stockwell Day's Alliance Party but also apparently the current Liberal Party of Canada who are rarin' to implement the same tactics as Mike Harris' Ontario Tories did at Ipperwash. Does this sound familiar: "[Government] will Take a Hardline with the Indian Protestors and If People are Hurt, So Be It." It should 'ring a bell'; it's a quote from Ontario Tory MPP Marcel Beaubien, printed in a SW Ont. newspaper less than twenty-four hours before Dudley George was killed at Ipperwash. And it's also what all the major parties in Canada are either doing or agreeing to by their silent complicity.

"Aboriginal Rights" are Canadian issues. The wellbeing and security of Canada - not to mention the human rights of all Canadians who dissent from the political agenda of the elite - depend on the establishment of successful means for resolving Aboriginal Rights issues in a just and respectful manner. There are groups across Canada which have taken up this challenge, such as: the faith-based Aboriginal Rights Coalition and its partners, the National Coalition-Building Institute, Settlers In Solidarity with Indigenous Sovereignty, Anti-Racist Action and Canadian Alliance in Solidarity with the Native Peoples, as well as issue-specific groups such as Friends of the Lubicon and our Coalition. But each of these groups (and there are more!) is limited by resources, mandate, membership base, etc.

(These limitations also apply to our Coalition, of course.) Perhaps the time has come for the development of a national congress to advance "Aboriginal Rights"? Let us know what you think:

** World Conference Against Racism (WCAR): What is Canada Doing? **
Canadian Heritage, under the guidance of Minister Hedy Fry, is going about the country holding civil consultations to assist them with preparing their official report for the WCAR, which will be held in South Africa in August / September 2001. At the recent Toronto consultation, our Coalition was well-represented by people who come from a wide variety of groups supporting the call for an Inquiry into Ipperwash.

The "Aboriginal Caucus" brought forward many strong, clear and good recommendations about how to appropriately acknowledge and address the racism experienced by Aboriginal Peoples across Canada. First in the Toronto Aboriginal Caucus' report to the Consultation Conference was a declaration that, among other topics, expressed solidarity with the Burnt Church People, called for a Public Inquiry into Ipperwash, and condemned government burying of RCAP as a prominent manifestation of racism (by further silencing Aboriginal voices).

Now we just have to sit back and see what - of all that is being said by Aboriginal Caucuses across Canada - will ACTUALLY GET INTO the Canadian government's report. You can insert YOUR views into the process even if you didn't get to the official 'consultations'. For info, contact Nathalie Gelinas (Mohawk) at Canadian Heritage: 819-994-0685 or 613-720-3765. Their site is If you send them something, we would appreciate getting a copy.

**International Strategies: WCAR & CERD (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination): What is the Coalition for a Public Inquiry Doing?**
It took weeks of hard work by our Working Group on International Anti-Racism Alliances to find out where, when, and how we could be included in the government's consultations - but we did it!! (One prominent national advocacy group has written to thank us for "opening up" the process.) However, we won't be resting there. We have conceived our own projects for these venues - for presentation at both the WCAR and Canada's compliance review on the CERD at the UN. Our projects begin with Ipperwash and spiral outwards, contextualizing the racism inherent circumstances surrounding the Sept. 1995 events and the subsequent cover-up: 1) across Canada, we'll look at how Aboriginal Rights issues & leaders are portrayed in the media; and 2) in Ontario, we'll look at the rise of anti-Native backlash as Aboriginal Peoples have increasingly asserted their treaty and land rights. We want to link with anyone who is interested in collaborating on these projects or just wants info about how to put their own issues forward. Contact Eva: ; 416-516-4810

Uphold Aboriginal Land and Treaty Rights - To support Human Rights and Aboriginal Sovereignty, please join us: Donations & Information: Box 111, Station C, Toronto, On M6J 3M7; E:; T: 416-537-3520; F: 416-538-2559

"The old people said to live beautifully with prayers and song. Some died for beauty too."
"How do we do that, Uncle Ralph, live for beauty?"
"It's simple, Pumpkin Flower," he said. "Believe!"

excerpted from "The Warriors" by Anna Lee Walters



Gunboat Diplomacy in Canada

by William Payne

A helicopter circles over our heads three times as we chat on the wharf. One man gets out binoculars to take a closer look, though we can almost see the faces without the help. For me, memories of being a human rights observer in a remote village in Chiapas, Mexico come back. Government surveillance feels the same in Canada, at least when you are in a First Nations community.

The conversation shifts from the government helicopter to school starting in a few days. A Mi'kmaq mother expresses concern, as her daughter has been having nightmares because of the tensions. A father watches as his two daughters load three lobster traps into their small dory. I am reminded that I am here only for a short while but the Mi'kmaki of Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church) will continue living here long after the current conflict is over.

I am a full-time volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a violence-reduction programme of several North American churches. On leave from teaching high school in downtown Toronto, I am now sent by CPT to situations of conflict. This year, I have been sent both to Chiapas and to Esgenoopetitj.

This is not the first conflict this community has faced, as reflected in its English name ? Burnt Church. Over two centuries ago their ancestors hid Acadians who were being sought by the British Army. Their church was burned in reprisal. We are reminded many times each day, as we listen to the whirl of the helicopters, as we watch the surveillance planes a few metres from the shore, as we count the RCMP vehicles or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) boats around this small community, that the Canadian government is using "gunboat diplomacy."

Let us remember what this is about. Non-natives have been granted permission for about three million lobster traps in the maritime provinces and one company holds licences for a quarter of those traps. Hundreds of thousands of traps are licenced for this bay alone. Esgenoopetitj is talking about a few thousand traps, and even by Canadian law Native fishing has priority over non-native fishing. If there is a conservation issue it is clear that the Native fishery is not the threat.

A member of the Listiguj Rangers (the fisheries officers from another Mi'kmaq community) told me about a fisheries dispute there twenty years ago. He was ten years old when hundreds of police raided their homes because of their salmon fishing. I had seen a National Film Board documentary about the incident and told him so: "I'm the little kid in the blue-plaid shirt on the bridge," he responded.

Another young man speaks of the hard death of his father, a man scarred by residential school. The memory of those schools is never far away as every person here has a family member, a parent or a grandparent who was sent there. Then he tells me of his three-year old's nightmares in recent days because of the helicopters.

CPTers stationed here have also served in Chiapas, the West Bank, Haiti and Bosnia. Too often we are struck by the similarities. In all our projects we search for ways of reducing the possibility of violence. In Chiapas we have camped out on a military base to pray for an end to the violence. In Hebron we have stood in front of machine guns.

Here in Burnt Church we stand watch. On the shore, on boats, in our visits throughout the area, and in our phone calls, letters and emails, we try to call the Canadian government to fulfil its obligations and responsibilities to the people of Esgenoopetitj.

My own family arrived in Mi'kmaq territory, in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, back in 1760, the same year the treaty was signed that was affirmed last year by Canada's Supreme Court. For five generations my ancestors were ships-carpenters, until my grandfather moved to Ontario. Along with many Canadians, I have become aware of how much my own life has been built on the theft of land and resources from the First Nations. This is hard to face, but only good can follow honesty and the search for a more just relationship. We know this in our bones.

But it is also exciting to be here. It is always exciting to be in a place where there is great unity and great joy. People are so happy when someone comes in with a handful of lobster from their few traps. People share their boats, share their gas, share the responsibility of organizing a carefully managed fishery, and share their lobster. Visitors, Native and non-native alike arrive. Doors are opened and food is prepared in great quantity.

How I wish the millions of Canadians that have seen the government vessels sink Native boats last week could also meet the people in those boats. Whenever someone is introduced here you learn who their cousins are, who their parents are, who their children are. There is such a sense of community, of family really, and I am learning so much being here.

I go to court tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 7), having been charged along with a Catholic priest with obstructing a fisheries officer. We had tried to retrieve some traps that had been taken by DFO officers from a Mi'kmaq fisher. It was all we could do really, when we saw those traps being taken away. In front of our eyes the next step in this long history of oppression was taking place ? we felt compelled to act in a way that said clearly that this was not being done in our names. We will not be alone though, as eight Mi'kmaq people face charges related to the fishery as well.

It is late in the evening and quiet now, though a plane passed over several times a few minutes ago. There is fear that the government may come tonight to take more traps. The number of RCMP vehicles at the road entrances of the reserve has again risen today. Yesterday a group of non-natives came into the waters here in a threatening way. All is not well.

I will go to bed shortly, not knowing if I will get a full night's sleep or only an hour. And I will go to sleep praying, first in thanksgiving that no-one was killed today and second in petition that no one will be killed tomorrow.

Doug Pritchard
Canada Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams



From: "jjbear"

A Judge's Ruling Unmuddies the Waters

By Parker Barss Donham

A funny thing happened to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on its way to stop Mi'kmaqs in Burnt Church, New Brunswick, from fishing lobster without DFO sanction.

The judge wouldn't play ball.

Not only was Mr. Justice Denis Lordon annoyed at the delay in getting native fishermen (arrested in a violent confrontation the night before) into court, he also declined to ban them from Miramichi Bay as a bail condition.

This blows a big hole in DFO's attempt to portray lobster fishing by members of the Burnt Church reserve in New Brunswick and the Indian Brook reserve in Nova Scotia as illegal.

As Lordon pointed out, the Marshall decision confirmed the Mi'kmaqs' treaty right to pursue a limited commercial fishery. That right is subject to federal regulation, but not to arbitrary regulation unilaterally imposed by DFO.

The Marshall decision, and previous aboriginal rights cases give Ottawa the power to regulate a native treaty right in the name of "compelling and substantial public objectives." The public objective usually cited is conservation, but the court says several others, like economic and regional fairness, and historical fishing by non-aboriginal groups, might also qualify.

Even after establishing that such compelling public concerns exist in the lobster fishery, DFO cannot proceed arbitrarily or unilaterally.

It must show that its method of regulation is the least intrusive upon native treaty rights. In the case of closed seasons, this will be a stretch. Closed seasons are only in part a conservation tool, and they are by no means the most effective one.

Good faith negotiations

It can impose regulations only after good faith negotiations with native groups whose rights they will infringe. Those negotiations must be procedurally fair to the natives, and substantively respectful of their right to fish.

As the court put it, "[T]he concerns and proposals of the native communities must be taken into account, and this might lead to different techniques of conservation and management in respect of the exercise of the treaty right."

This is already the case in Nova Scotia, where Mi'kmaqs hunt deer and moose in a different season, and according to different rules, than white hunters.

Proportionality must also come into play in any attempt to regulate a treaty right. A regime that permitted three million white traps in Atlantic Canada but only a few thousand Mi'kmaq traps would not substantively respect the Mi'kmaqs' treaty right to a limited commercial fishery.

In preparation for the 2000 fishing season, DFO attempted an end-run around this procedure. It asked native bands to accept Ottawa's unilaterally imposed rules for one year in return for millions of dollars in boats, licenses, equipment, and training.

Most bands agreed, but Indian Brook and Burnt Church did not. They wanted to fish under the terms of the Marshall decision.

A Marshall-based process would have looked something like this: DFO would have asked the two bands when, where, and how they proposed to fish, then evaluated those plans to see if they raised any public policy concerns.

If so, the appropriate course would have been to discuss those issues with the bands, and attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution. Again and again, the courts have said negotiation is the way to resolve these issues.

If no solution could be reached, DFO could have referred the issue to the courts, or could have conducted a token prosecution to test the issue.

"As this and other courts have pointed out on many occasions, the process of accommodation of the treaty right may best be resolved by consultation and negotiation of a modern agreement for participation in specified resources by the Mi'kmaq rather than by litigation," the court said.

Negotiate first

"[T]he best approach in these types of cases is a process of negotiation and reconciliation that properly considers the complex and competing interests at stake.

"The various governmental, aboriginal and other interests are not, of course, obliged to reach an agreement. In the absence of a mutually satisfactory solution, the courts will resolve the points of conflict as they arise case by case."

DFO did none of those things. It offered bands a series of inducements - money, gear, licences - in exchange for their agreement to fish by DFO imposed rules.

It portrays the refusal by Burnt Church and Indian Brook to take the bribe as "flagrant, in-your-face, illegal fishing." It responds out of all proportion to any action it has ever taken against flagrant illegal fishing by white lobster fishermen.

This is a provocative, destructive way to proceed, one the courts are unlikely to endorse.




Fishing Rights In Eastern Canada - Supreme Court Ruling Unravels
Canada's Illegal Hold On Indigenous Peoples" Land And Resources

Kahnawake of Mohawk Territory

Fishing Ruling Helps Destroy White Man's Myth

by Kenneth Deer
Montreal Gazette
October 7, 1999

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold a 1760 treaty between the king of England and the Micmac in Nova Scotia is a small but important step in the unraveling of Canada's illegal hold on indigenous peoples' land and resources.

What the Supreme Court did was recognize that a treaty was a binding legal instrument that should be interpreted using the written text of the document as well as the negotiating records that led to its signing. This allowed for the inclusion of the Micmac concerns to be considered even if they were not in the final draft of the treaty since it was the British who wrote the text and most likely left the Micmac concerns out of the treaty.

However, the judgment is still short of the principles outlined in the United Nations Study on Treaties, Agreements and Other Constructive Arrangements between States and Indigenous Populations.

The study, written by international law professor Miguel Alphonso Martinex of Cuba, a member of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, reached some very important conclusions.

First of all, indigenous peoples have a right to their lands and their resources and to continue engaging, unmolested, in their traditional economic activities on these lands; and that indigenous peoples have a right to self-determination as do all peoples on Earth.

The study recalls that treaties are made between nations. Treaties concluded between states and indigenous peoples have the same weight and legal status as any other treaty. States knew when they signed those treaties that they were dealing with sovereign nations and recognized them as such as the time. Only nations can sign treaties, and states knew that at the time of entering into treaties with indigenous peoples. They cannot say therefore that such treaties are internal or domestic treaties. There is no basis in law for domestic treaties. Countries like Canada and the United States try to portray their treaties with indigenous peoples as domestic agreements.

All treaties are international in scope and therefore should be dealt with accordingly.

The study also recalls that treaties are not what makes indigenous peoples sovereign. Treaties just confirm that states recognize their sovereignty. Just because some indigenous peoples did not sign treaties does not mean they are not sovereign.

The conclusions of the UN study dismantle the premise of European dominance over the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It"s a concept that shakes the Canadian establishment to its roots.

That is what is happening today. With Micmac people fishing off the east coast, Salish people logging on the west coast, Mohawks servicing Internet gaming, the Canadian establishment is running scared. Fishermen and loggers are committing violence against Indians, newspapers are writing articles, columns and editorials questioning the activities of Indians, and the federal cabinet is considering legislation to negate a Supreme Court decision upholding a treaty with the Micmac. Canada must be shaking in its boots.

Canada was built on the premise that the white man was dominant over the people who were already here; that, somehow, God had anointed them with the right to own all the land and resources through the divine right of kings; that these transplanted Europeans would rule over the very lives of the indigenous peoples in North America.

This is the myth that the white man has used to steal the Western Hemisphere. Now that myth is slowly disintegrating.

The courts, long the upholders of the myth, are now re-evaluating and changing the old, racist concepts. Even if the courts are only going part of the way, it is enough to make the entire society panic.

Canada's "just society" is not so just and it is just seeing the tip of the iceberg at the cost of delaying justice to the indigenous peoples in Canada. The loggers, fishermen, columnists and government can all complain about what the country did to the indigenous peoples. Now they are paying the price.

PRESENT SITUATION. The Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy People need your help. They have vowed to exercise their inherent powers and confirmed legal right by going out on the water to fish. The government is standing by and the police to watch as non-natives attack the Indian people and damage their property in violation of the ruling. They are asking native and non-native supporters to come to Burnt Church New Brunswick to keep the peace and protect them from organized mob rule. The mobs have desecrated Indian property and sacred sites, burnt native boats, destroyed lobster traps and have beaten up native people.

Please contact the people listed below immediately with advice and support; contact Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Canadian Embassies and consulates worldwide condemning Canada's tactic of using civilians against natives; ask international organizations to put pressure on Canada; and to get whatever political support they can for the Indians. Remember, the native people's right to fish is supported by the 1760 treaty, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Constitution of Canada.

The Indians need more traps, fishing boats, fuel for their boats, communications equipment and other necessary supplies. They especially need people to go there to deter the potential for violence.

MNN Mohawk Nation News
Canadian Alliance in Solidarity with the Native Peoples CASNP




Boyhood pals rock boat on Miramichi Bay
Friends show tough leadership in fishing war

By Kelly Toughill
Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - The very first time James Ward met Brian Bardibogue, he drew blood. Ward was just a kid, up here on a summer holiday to visit relatives on his mother's reserve. Skipping rocks along the shore of Miramichi Bay, he hit Bardibogue in the back of the head.

"He came up wailing and crying and blood on his hands," laughs Ward. "We've been fast friends ever since."

Today, the two friends are an extraordinary political team that has accomplished what many others tried to do, and failed: They organized a revolt that threatens to forever change the balance of power between Ottawa and Mi'kmaq people.

Bardibogue, 31, and Ward, 32, convinced people here to ignore federal fishing regulations and set their own rules over a resource they claim as their own.

Midnight raids by armed fishery officials and a multi-million-dollar lure from Ottawa hasn't broken that resolve.

Neither side pretends any longer that this fight is about fishing lobster out of season. If Burnt Church grabs the right to regulate its own fishery, that will start a cascade of similar claims across the country as native people demand the right to control and profit by everything in the land, water and air.

Last week, Canada's highest ranking native leader, National Chief Matthew Coon Come, said Burnt Church was on the "front line" of native rights. It was Ward and Bardibogue who took it there.

"We really complement each other," Ward said recently during a brief break from the battle that he helped launch on the waters outside the window of his modest white home.

"Brian has a more flamboyant nature that appeals to certain people; I am the more serious, determined one. My strength is during crisis. Brian is good at social mobilization."

They are strikingly different. Ward has a university degree in political science; Bardibogue dropped out of school in Grade 9. Ward is a former U.S. soldier, an intense man whose life is defined by his image of the honourable and disciplined warrior. Bardibogue is a notorious flirt, a snappy dresser and gifted speaker who can't stand still for more than a second and seems to take up twice as much space in the world as anyone else.

It was Ward who wrote the 100-page fisheries management plan that was at the core of this fight. It was Bardibogue who corralled the members of this reserve to vote in a historic referendum, driving his big black pickup around the dusty roads of this reserve, charming and cajoling friends and relatives back to the voting booth set up in the school gym.

There are similarities too.

Both men have white fathers. Both have spent years living in Massachusetts. Both became fathers themselves at a young age.

Ward grew up in Worcester, Mass., where his mother worked in a boot factory. He didn't move to Burnt Church until he was 12, when his parents split up.

He arrived here on the reserve an intense American patriot, an ambitious adolescent who had his life all mapped out; a career in the U.S. Army culminating in membership in the elite Delta Force.

In the meantime, he hung out with his best friend. Bardibogue remembers playing Dungeons and Dragons and bow hunting together. Ward remembers how they liked chasing girls.

At age 16, Ward became a father. He quit school for a year to earn money for the baby, then went back to finish his diploma. At age 18, he hitchhiked to Boston and joined the U.S. Army.

"I knew from the time I was a little child that I was going to be a soldier," he says. "For many native men, there is a certain innate striving to be a warrior. The discipline and adventure of military life is very appealing to us."

Ward was in the army for six years, first in the 9th Infantry and then the 101st Airborne Division.

In 1992, he put a bullet in his head.

It is not a story he likes to tell, for he does not think that most people will understand that it was honour, not anger or self pity, that drove him to it.

But the tale reveals a lot about him, about the depth of his commitment to his vision of a warrior's way of life, and about the sheer stubborn toughness of both his body and his mind.

It was Sept. 16, 1992. Ward had been unjustly accused of a crime and was in danger of losing everything he cherished most; his army career, his reputation and his honour. Then he found out that he might also lose access to his three kids.

He put a 9-mm pistol under his chin and fired. The hollow-point bullet pierced his jaw, went through his tongue, the roof of his mouth, up behind his nose and eyes and exploded in his forehead.

He doesn't remember pulling the trigger, but he remembers with perfect clarity everything after that point; how warm the blood was as it soaked through his shirt, how he fought not to lie down in the ambulance because his lungs were filling with blood, how he puked up bits of flesh and bone and teeth when he finally pushed off the medics and sat up.

At the hospital in Nashville, Tenn., his eyes were swollen shut and his tongue was mostly gone, so a doctor told him to answer yes and no questions by raising his right or left hand. When he told them, no, he couldn't breathe, they cut open his throat for a tracheotomy. It was only then that he passed out.

He doesn't think of the incident as a suicide attempt. He compares it to the ancient Japanese ritual of seppuku, in which a Samurai warrior who has failed his cause uses a ceremonial knife to disembowel himself. The ritual was reserved only for the warrior class, and was a moment not of shame or defeat, but of high honour.

Ward lost more than two litres of blood in the 17 minutes before he reached hospital. Doctors had to peel away the skin from his face and take out his eyes to reconstruct the bone and nerves of his skull. He still can't smell and he is blind in his right eye. He has 47 pieces of titanium in his skull.

Yet just 2 1/2 months later, Ward returned to his unit at full service. He had been cleared of the accusation that threatened his career and his family, but his eyesight no longer met army regulations. For his final four months in the army, he functioned as a sergeant, leading a recon team on manoeuvres night and day.


    `For many native men, there is a certain innate striving to be a warrior. The discipline and adventure of military life is very appealing to us.'

    - James Ward       

Ward returned to Burnt Church after his discharge, stripped of his lifelong dream. He enrolled at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science.

Just as he was finishing university, a court ruled that native people had treaty rights to crown timber in New Brunswick. On reserves plagued by unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and suicides, the ruling sparked an unfamiliar, intoxicating season of hope.

Hundreds of Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people bought chainsaws and headed to the woods. By the time an appeal court overturned the ruling in April, 1998, people who had never worked before had tasted economic freedom and were willing to fight for their right to log on crown land.

It was a tumultuous time, with mass protests and blockades, and Ward's old friend, Bardibogue, was right in the thick of it. Bardibogue was a band councillor by then. He also had a logging company and served as a director of the native forestry group leading the fight.

After he was kicked out of school, Bardibogue had gone to work at a museum called Plimoth Plantation, near Plymouth Rock, Mass. He toured New England talking to students about the history of native people in North America and their first contact with Europeans. It was there he learned native history and refined the speaking skills that would be so crucial when he returned home.

Bardibogue met and married his wife in Massachusetts. He brought her back to Burnt Church when he was 21.

"I came back because my wife was pregnant and I was scared," he says.

A few years later, Bardibogue was appointed chief of police for the band. In 1996, he was elected to council.

Bardibogue was crushed when the movement to assert native logging rights collapsed as chiefs of individual bands signed agreements to limit native logging to certain areas.

"The chiefs sold us out," he says.

When the fishing issue came up last year, he was determined that wouldn't happen again.

Burnt Church's elected officials now support Ward and Bardibogue, but it wasn't always so. When Ward was invited to tell a United Nations committee on indigenous people about the fight in Burnt Church, the council refused to pay his ticket to Geneva.

Bardibogue helped raise the money and Ward went anyway.

"I am flat broke," Bardibogue says. "They almost shut off the phone in my house. I have no money to buy more lobster traps. I have no money for lawyers. It is hard to do things when you have no money."

Until just a few weeks ago, all the key leaders of this revolt were living on less than $300-a-month welfare. Bardibogue also gets a $7,000-a-year stipend as a councillor.

One of the most important aspects of this fight is how Bardibogue and Ward forced the federal government to deal with them instead of the band council.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people have a treaty right to fish commercially. Once again, native people flocked to seize control of a natural resource, but this time they had the highest court in the land behind them. And this time, their fight would be with Ottawa, not Fredericton.

Bardibogue had a little white boat called the Freedom Won. He was one of hundreds around the region who bought lobster traps and set them in the water of Miramichi Bay.

Commercial fishermen, banned from fishing at that time, were outraged. The morning of Oct. 3, 1999, a flotilla of 100 boats sailed out from nearby Baie St. Anne and systematically destroyed 4,000 native lobster traps set in the bay. The raid sparked days of violence that saw two trucks, a house and a structure sacred to native people torched and one man beaten with a baseball bat.

Bardibogue left Burnt Church after the raid to reunite with his wife in Massachusetts.

"I was burned out, disappointed and heart-broken," he says of that time.

Ward stayed here and kept working, trying to build up support for a fisheries plan written and enforced by his own people.

In the meantime, bands around the region signed deals with the fisheries department. In most cases, the bands were given lots of cash, new fish boats and lobster and crab licences if they agreed to fish within the same regulations as non-native fishermen.

But there were complaints on reserves that the new wealth wasn't being doled out fairly. In several cases, band councillors turned around and sold the band's new quota to non-native fishermen. Men and women who had hoped to be fishing by spring bitterly watched non-natives take to the sea to fish their band's quota. In many cases, band councillors had a hard time convincing members that the money they got for selling the band's new fish quota was being used for the band's benefit.

In Burnt Church, Ward suggested everyone get an equal shot at the fishery. His plan called for allotting four tags to every man, woman and child on the reserve.

"Once people exercise their right, they will fight for it," he says. "But they have to feel like they have a personal stake."

Ottawa offered Burnt Church $2.5 million, five new fish boats, four new lobster licences with a total of about 1,200 traps and a slice of the lucrative crab fishery if Burnt Church would stop fishing lobster in the summer and fall, as they have done for many years. Ottawa also took away a licence to use 400 lobster traps at this time of year.

Miramichi Bay is a busy place. More than 240,000 traps are set in this fishing zone each spring. The reserve already held 13 licences for the spring fishery, worth about 5,000 traps. People here did the math and figured they were being offered a trap increase of less than 0.5 per cent of the regional fishery.

On Wednesday, Aug. 9, they turned down the deal. The next morning, a bald eagle circled over native fishermen as they loaded battered lobster traps on to old skiffs and dories in direct violation of federal authority. Bardibogue was the first back in the water, pushing the Freedom Won off the sandy shore just after dawn as reporters and supporters looked on. Ward, who does not fish, hopped aboard for the first symbolic ride.

Four days later, band members had dropped more than 700 traps in the water despite Ottawa's adamant demand that they be removed. Sunday night, fisheries officials moved in to seize the traps in a raid that turned violent when Bardibogue, Ward and others tried to stop them.

Fisheries officials used pepper spray on the fishermen, and Bardibogue says he was choked to unconsciousness and roughed up before he was taken ashore and charged with obstruction of justice. He says he dialed 911 from the Neguac jail to ask for an ambulance.

By the time his friend arrived in hospital, Ward had organized two barricades to close Highway 11, a regional road that connects Miramichi with the Acadian Peninsula.

The raid once again galvanized opinion here. Within a few hours, help had arrived from Listuguj, a Mi'kmaq reserve just across the Quebec border.

Listuguj has a long history with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Two decades ago, fisheries officials swarmed across the reserve in a dispute over salmon fishing. Today, every child on the reserve can recite tiny details of that raid, where their relatives were when officials surrounded the reserve, who was hurt, who was arrested.

Two years ago, Listuguj loggers set up barricades across a regional highway in Quebec in the fight over native timber rights.

Today, Listuguj patrols its own fishery with high-speed boats and well-equipped rangers.

Friday afternoon, Burnt Church band councillors, accompanied by Listuguj Chief Allison Metallic and Ward, finally sat down with federal negotiator James MacKenzie. It was the first time the two sides met face to face since the court ruling launching the fishing dispute. When they emerged three hours later, the federal government had agreed to use Ward's management plan as the basis for negotiation and to stop seizing native lobster traps as negotiations get under way.

Things may never be the same on the waters of Atlantic Canada.

Richard Gray, a councillor from Listuguj, says his band is unlikely to renew its agreement with the fisheries department this year. On April 1, fishing agreements with 29 bands will expire. Gray expects every band will now follow Burnt Church's lead and insist on at least some control over their own fishery.

Ward spent his days last week meeting with reporters, band councillors and nervous members of his community. He spent his nights pacing back and forth between the barricades, checking on the men and women who tended twin fires that blocked Highway 11.

"Brian and I are already talking about what issue we are going to tackle next," Ward says. "Forestry is first, because that will be easy. Then it has to be drugs. We are losing a whole generation. It's time now for us to think about the future."



The CBC's Kelly Ryan has been covering the dispute over fishing rights from both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. She spent some time in Burnt Church, N.B. and wrote this essay for the CBC Radio program The House

Burnt Church is a beautiful place. I was at the reserve for the first time last summer, invited by one of the band councillors. He wanted to talk about the problems with prescription drug abuse on the reserve.

When I turned off the highway that goes through towns like New Jersey, Legaceyville, and Neguac, I was stunned by the beauty. Irises bloomed in the ditches by the road. Miramichi Bay shone in the sunlight.

I spent four days there, talking with prescrption drug addicts. They never wanted to do interviews in homes. They always took me to the place they felt safest.

It was a point of land that reached out into the bay. They told me it was sacred land. They'd been to sweat lodges and healing ceremonies here.

I stood on that point of land again this week, this time with a group of elders. Everyone was quiet.

We stared at charred pieces of wood lying in pools of water; the remains of a sacred arbor built just two months ago. Traditional spiritual services had been held there. Native drummers and chanters had sung, dancers had danced in celebration. And now, someone had burned it to the ground.

People from the reserve had seen the flames and come running. They lugged water from the bay to put it out. But it's gone.

It was like burning a church.

Ironic, of course, since the town is called Burnt Church.

It got its name when General Wolfe rode through here more than 200 years ago. He stopped briefly, to burn a church.

And though most people in Canada probably think Burnt Church is only the reserve - in fact, it's the name of a town that is home to three populations - English, Acadian, and the natives on the reserve. The natives call their land Esgenoopitj.

But the primary population in Burnt Church is Mi'kmaq: 1100 on the reserve. There are about 150 in the rest of the town.

Normally the three cultures live together quite happily. They all eat at Lucy's Truck Stop and Chez Raymonds. The kids ride the same school busses and go to the same schools. The wharf itself isn't even on the reserve. There are about a dozen summer homes between it and the boundary of the native community.

One of those summer homes was torched on Monday night.

I had been sitting in the restaurant - Chez Raymonds. It was about 10:30 at night and my television colleague and I were finally free to eat dinner. Then we saw an ambulance go screaming by. Two other customers said firetrucks had gone by just minutes before - we ran.

It's strange when you know firetrucks really mean something is burning - and fire is an act of violence. There are no false alarms in Burnt Church these days.

We got into my colleague's van and sped to the reserve only 3 minutes away. Her cameraman had to stop driving because the smoke was so thick he couldn't see the road.

We got out and ran again - down the middle of the street. On either side crowds of natives stood watching firefighters battle the flames. Some were laughing, some drinking beer, some silent - horrified things had gone this far.

And why did things get so out of hand that some people are prepared to burn a home, a church, trucks sitting on a wharf, prepared to ram a van into a truck full of native young men sending three of them to hospital, even if those men were themselves trying to damage a garage?

I stood on a boat last Sunday morning, bobbing on Miramichi Bay -- everywhere I looked white men were hauling lobster traps onto their boats - traps that didn't belong to them. They were taking the doors off the traps so they were useless, then cutting the lines and tossing them back into the ocean. Some raised a fist in triumph after each trap dropped back into the water. One man donned a wig - a black braid and mocked the native war dance.

But the man driving the boat I was on, was not some monster. He was a nice guy. And he believed in this protest.

He says he's worried about the lobster stocks.

The department of fisheries says that's silly - they're not at risk.

He says he's worried about his livelihood. There's no question if you bring more people into a fishery - even if it is only a dozen boats leaving from the Burnt Church wharf - there will be fewer lobsters for each fisherman, he will make less money.

But I don't think those fishermen who cut those traps knew what they were starting; knew the fury that would erupt on the wharf when native fishermen were told their traps were gone; knew how the wharf would change in the next 24 hours. With teepees built on it, native flags flying, Mi'kmaq prayers services held by the water, the wharf itself under the watchful eye of the warrior society.

The first hint I got of the new Burnt Church was first thing Monday morning. It's a scene I'll never forget. It was before sunrise. A perfect midnight blue sky - the moon still shining with one star beside it. Three members of the warrior society stop me as I try to walk down the wharf to see the burned out trucks at the end.

They tell me I can't go there. Then they finally agree to escort me and another reporter down. I tell them it's my birthday - what a way to spend a birthday. One warrior laughs and stops. He cradles the hockey stick he's holding - normally a weapon, I guess. He plays it like a guitar and sings happy birthday to me.

And that's the thing about this week in Burnt Church - in broad strokes the story is about lobster, rights, and race. But on the ground there are real people: warriors who tell me of butterflies in their stomach fearful of the violence that may yet come; non-natives who weep because their communities are torn apart and who wonder what will bring them together again. I wonder, too.




Ottawa's lobster war against the Mi'kmaq

William Hipwell
National Post
September 30, 2000

The shooting has begun on Miramichi Bay. Competing allegations abound as to who fired the first shot, but whoever did, this is a predictable outcome of a federal policy that seems designed to inflame the anger that has been smouldering in northeastern New Brunswick. On Thursday last week, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced that the Esgeno�petitj Mi'kmaq food fishery near Burnt Church, N.B., would, at 11 a.m. the next morning, "become illegal."

This time the DFO was not merely talking about the commercial fishery at the centre of the months-long dispute. Now, the government threatened that even the paltry 40 traps used by the Mi'kmaq to catch lobster for food and ceremonial purposes would be seized by force. This despite the fact that every aboriginal nation in Canada has recognized title to land and resources, and a constitutional right to a food fishery established by more than a century of legal precedents, beginning with the St. Catherine's Milling case in 1888 and culminating in the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark 1990 Sparrow decision.

The abrupt federal move has left legal experts reeling, as it threatens in its blatant unconstitutionality not only to trigger widespread violence between the aboriginal nations and the government, but also to render precarious the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all Canadians. When a government has become so arrogant that it feels it can with impunity contravene its own constitution and defy the rulings of its own Supreme Court, all citizens have reason to be afraid.

Almost without exception, Canada's major newspapers and broadcasters wrongly report that the right to a commercial fishery is a "native belief" rather than a fact of law, at least as regards the Mi'kmaq. Emboldened by this misunderstanding, the government position has become increasingly intractable. In contrast, the Mi'kmaq have offered numerous concessions in an effort to reach a peaceful agreement, including a joint trap count, a voluntary reduction in fishing and an openness to dialogue with the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

The Supreme Court's 1999 Marshall decision, which authorized a limited Mi'kmaq commercial fishery, held that any federal regulation of that right must be justified by a legitimate conservation concern. After more than a month of violent assaults by DFO and RCMP officers against the Mi'kmaq, Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal and his staff appear to have finally begun to understand this. On Sept. 20, Mr. Dhaliwal and Jim Jones, DFO's regional director general, sent separate letters to the chief and council of Esgeno�petitj ("Burnt Church" is a distasteful name the government imposed on the Esgeno�petitj Mi'kmaq). These letters outlined, for the first time, a putative conservation concern about the level of lobster fishing authorized under the Esgeno�petitj Fishery Act and Management Plan (EFAMP).

Because the law matters, so do federal statements about conservation and sustainability. Unfortunately, DFO relies on inflated numbers and partial truths, raising the unsettling possibility that the government is manufacturing a conservation problem to justify the infringement of Mi'kmaq treaty rights.

According to DFO's Jim Jones, during this fishing season, which will end on Oct. 7, the total Esgeno�petitj lobster catch would total 153,000 kilograms. This figure is based on the DFO contention that the Mi'kmaq set 1,700 lobster traps in the water, a figure hotly contested by the Esgeno�petitj Band, which hired chartered accountants to verify its own claim of having set only 650 traps. Moreover, DFO bases its concerns about long-term sustainability and "threat to the resource" on a theoretical maximum of 15,000 traps in the spring fishery and 5,600 traps in the fall fishery set out in the EFAMP for a much wider geographical area, and not the 650 (or, if you will, 1,700) traps actually in use in Miramichi Bay today. Certainly, if the Mi'kmaq management plan has overallocated traps, this needs to be negotiated. However, according to the strange logic of the DFO, since 20,600 traps would not be "sustainable on a long-term basis," somehow 1,700 traps create an immediate conservation concern justifying infringement. This does not even come close to what the Supreme Court envisaged.

How significant is the Mi'kmaq lobster harvest? The federal government permits non-native commercial fishing interests in Atlantic Canada to use more than three million traps each year. Of these, non-natives in Zone 23 alone, which is the area covered by the EFAMP, have licences to 242,000 traps. Illegal non-native traps greatly inflate these numbers. If we accept federal estimates, the Mi'kmaq of Esgeno�petitj are using less than 1% as many traps as their non-native neighbours. Even if the Mi'kmaq set all the traps they ultimately want under their EFAMP plan, their Esgeno�petitj fishery would represent less than 8% of the local non-native commercial fishery. Were it not for the gravity of the present situation, these statistics would render federal claims about conservation laughable. As a Mi'kmaq fisherman asked in a recent interview with CBC, "So we are supposed to save the lobsters for [the non-natives]?"

If the conservation argument is so threadbare, why is the government so intent on shutting down the tiny Mi'kmaq inshore fishery? A clue may be found in an unlikely place: the Halifax Harbour. There, on the same day as the DFO "conservation" letters to Esgeno�petitj, Fred Sears of the Southwest Fishermen's Rights Association sneaked on to the Bluenose II and chained himself high up the mast. His message was twofold: DFO's policy of allocating resources to large offshore fishery corporations is driving small inshore fishers into bankruptcy, and this policy is simultaneously destroying the fish stocks.

In this regard, a brief passage in Mr. Dhaliwal's letter to the Esgeno�petitj Band is revealing. Mr. Dhaliwal states that he is responsible not just for conservation but also for "the orderly management of the fisheries, taking into account the state of the stocks and the interests of other users of the resource." These other interests, as the Bluenose II protest emphasizes, are large corporations, and not the small fishermen cynically valorized by DFO spokespeople in their rhetorical battle against the Mi'kmaq.

With an election just around the corner, the Liberals are evidently gambling that the violent suppression of Mi'kmaq rights will go unopposed by the public. In that, they have badly misjudged the decency and compassion of Canadians. Even worse, they are, in their obsession to show who is boss, setting in motion a process that could culminate, as it has in so many other multi-ethnic states, in a protracted and bloody civil war. That this has not already happened is thanks only to the admirable patience of the Mi'kmaq Nation and the rest of aboriginal Canada. The federal government must work in good faith for a peaceful resolution to the "lobster wars," and develop a comprehensive policy to resolve aboriginal nations' just claims to a share of natural resources, before that patience runs out.

William Hipwell holds a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada doctoral fellowship at Carleton University's department of geography and environmental studies.



Contact:J J Bear -
    Communications, Atlantic Policy Congress (APC) of First Nations Chiefs- 902-667-4007
John G. Paul - Executive Director, APC - 902-667-4007
Jeff Brownstein - President, Local 6 Maritime Fishermen's Union (MFU) - 902-929-2757
Mike Belliveau - Executive Secretary, MFU - 506-532-2485


Amherst, Nova Scotia - July 25, 2000

The Atlantic Policy Congress (APC) of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat Inc. and the Maritime Fishermen's Union (MFU) wish to make a joint statement regarding the desire of Hunt Oil, of Texas, to perform seismic testing this fall in the waters of Sydney Bight, specifically in the waters off Port Morien to Cape Smokey, without completing an extensive environmental assessment prior to exploring.

The APC Chiefs, in Resolution #47/99, demanded that two similar exploration surveys be stopped in the Port Hood to Cheticamp area last December, where a lease is held by Corridor Resources.

Now, the Canada/Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum board has chosen to by-pass the environmental assessment process regarding oil and gas exploration off its shores, and plan to issue these permits.

"These exploration permits will have major impacts on the eco-systems in those areas," said Chief Lawrence Paul, Co-chair of APC, "and may damage or destroy many of the fish stocks that are there."

"We are concerned about the lack of both the Federal and Provincial governments regulations to protect these inshore areas," said Chief Second Peter Barlow, Co-chair of APC. "The precedent they are setting by issuing these permits without conducting environmental assessments are endangering the marine life and the communities reliant on those resources."

"The commercial fishery in Sydney Bight is worth more now than it ever was and remains the backbone of the economy of coastal Cape Breton," said Jeff Brownstein, President of Local 6, Maritime Fishermen's Union. "Our groundfish stocks show signs of rebuilding, our crab stocks are booming and we have put into place conservation measures to improve our lobster fishery by doubling egg production. It is absolutely criminal to consider seismic exploration which could kill shellfish and fish eggs and larvae as well as disrupt their migration patterns."

The Atlantic Chiefs and the Maritime Fishermen's Union are demanding that Minister Dhaliwal put a halt to the issuance of these permits and live up to his responsibilities laid out in the legislation regarding protecting the habitat.



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