Burnt Church natives ignore plea to stop fishing

Calgary Herald
Saturday, October 9, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. Native fishermen in this community have rejected a plea by regional chiefs to voluntarily stop fishing for a month by Saturday.

The fishermen refused a self-imposed moratorium because they believe it is their right and duty to support their families in accordance with last month's Supreme Court ruling upholding their ancient right to harvest East Coast fisheries.

''They feel to do anything else would be criminal,'' Alex Dedam, controller for the Burnt Church First Nation, said Thursday after 100 people met behind closed doors in a local school for an accountability meeting with the chief and local leaders.

Following an intense meeting with federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal in Halifax on Wednesday to find a solution to the East Coast fishing crisis, the 35 chiefs of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs urged members in the region to voluntarily stop fishing for a 30-day cooling off period.

At least 25 of the 35 First Nations have agreed to the moratorium. The Burnt Church reserve in northeast New Brunswick, the scene of recent violence after commercial fishermen vandalized native fishing equipment, remains the most vocal in opposing a moratorium.

''They're sick and tired of being controlled, being limited,'' Dedam said after Thursday's meeting. Dedam, who estimated the First Nation had roughly 50 fishermen, said about 1,000 lobster traps have been ordered for Burnt Church fishermen who lost traps in last weekend's violence. About 25 will go to each fisherman when the traps arrive

Dedam said the community has been traumatized by what has happened after the high court recognized a 1760 treaty giving them the right to fish without a licence even during the off-season.

He could not say if Thursday's decisions by the band's fishermen was final. ''This is the feeling they have today and they will continue fishing. We'll see what happens after that.''

Dhaliwal urged everyone to be calm and work together to reach an agreement on the crisis.

''It's always difficult to gain unanimity,'' the minister said from Ottawa after the Burnt Church meeting. ''I continue to monitor the situation.''

Dhaliwal has stressed that he has the authority to shut down the fishery if he feels stocks are at risk. The Chretien government has also said it is exploring the possibility of seeking a suspension of the high court ruling. Dhaliwal has said the government will make an announcement soon on how it intends to implement the court's decision.

''Everyone is adamant we'll stay in the water regardless of what it takes, '' James Ward, a member of the native warrior security team, said after the Burnt Church meeting.

Meanwhile, a man protesting federal fisheries policies began the seventh day of his hunger strike Thursday on the telephone with officials.

Dan Edwards said he's found out that in the eyes of the federal Liberals, a fisheries crisis on the B.C. coast is ''out of sight, out of mind,'' in light of the native fishing uproar on the East Coast. Edwards is a member of the Fraser River Sockeye Crisis Committee, which is demanding up to $480-million compensation for what they have termed a natural disaster.