More violence feared

Catholic New Times
Sunday, March 5, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. -- ''When you are dealing with racism so long, you become numb to it,'' a Mi'kmaq woman told a Christian Peacemakers Teams fact-finding mission to New Brunswick in eastern Canada in January. She spoke of the treatment that First Nations people in Esgeno Petitj (Burnt Church) received from whites during the conflict last fall over lobster fishing. It takes wake-up calls like the most recent conflict ''to realize that these people just don't love you.''

As with many First Nations people, options for employment on the reserve have always been limited. They also have been unable to find employment in the surrounding communities regardless of their educational skills, because of who they are.

With the Marshall decision by the Supreme Court of Canada last September, which recognized Aboriginals' treaty rights to sell fish in order to sustain a ''moderate living,'' people at Esgeno Petitj saw a chance to earn an income without having to leave their community. Many people used all their financial resources to purchase lobster traps and equipment, believing that they could fish without being molested by government authorities.

The CPT delegation learned that the situation was worse than it had appeared in the national news. On Oct. 3, over 150 boats bearing white fishermen streamed in to the bay to protest the native fishery. Some of those people went further in their protest by cutting all the lobster traps of the Native fishermen. Although epartment of Fisheries and Oceans officials and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were also on the water, they made no attempt to stop the destruction. Many people believe that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wanted an excuse to keep Native fishermen out of the water. Native fishermen lost $250,000 worth of equipment.

Four months later, community members are concerned that the government has done little to resolve the situation. They are also concerned that more violence will break out this spring when they attempt to fish alongside the non-Native fishermen.