Christians want to calm fishery waters

STEVE MACLEOD, The Canadian Press
The Calgary Herald
Monday, April 3, 2000

HALIFAX. God's peacekeepers are about to enter the native fishing war. A Mennonite and Quaker organization trained in peacekeeping and non-violent activism is sending ''a violence-reduction team'' to northern New Brunswick to observe the spring lobster fishery.

A four-member team from the Christian Peacemaker Corps is to arrive Tuesday in Burnt Church, a Mi'kmaq reserve torn by violence last fall in a dispute over native fishing rights.

The team intends to stay in the community for about three months.

''We're willing to place our bodies in the midst of the conflict in order to reduce the risk of violence,'' said Doug Pritchard, the corps' Canadian co-ordinator.

''We're certainly active in that role. We're not observing from a distance. ''

Pritchard said a fact-finding team went to Burnt Church in January and found that natives and non-natives are equally worried violence will erupt again when the lobster season opens May 1.

Last October, buildings and vehicles were burned and about 3,000 native lobster traps destroyed in Miramichi Bay after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people have the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, hunting and gathering. A subsequent clarification by the high court said the right is subject to federal regulation.

The dispute flickered out with the onset of winter, but tensions in the community still simmer beneath the surface.

''It doesn't seem to have gotten any better,'' Pritchard said in a weekend interview from his Toronto office.

''It seems the situation has become even more polarized than last fall, if that's possible.''

J.J. Bear, a spokesman for the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs, said aboriginals want to avoid trouble, but have every intention of going fishing under their own terms.

He hadn't heard of the Christian Peacekeeping Corps, but said the presence of neutral parties could help if tensions boil over again later this spring.