Defiant native fishermen vow to ignore Ottawa and set own rules

Canadian Press
Tuesday, March 14, 2000

FREDERICTON. Defiant native fishermen in northern New Brunswick have walked away from the federal negotiating table and are preparing to go fishing - on their own terms.

Kathy Lambert, a councillor at the Burnt Church First Nation on Miramichi Bay, said Tuesday the reserve has given up on any hope of a satisfactory agreement with Ottawa over sharing the lobster fishery with non-native, commercial fishermen.

''The community wishes for us not to sign any agreements at this point but come up with our own management plans and use the Marshall decision,'' Lambert said.

''We're just going to fish. It's our communal right and we're going to exercise that right.''

Ottawa is attempting to negotiate agreements with Mi'kmaq and Maliseet communities in the Maritimes in time for the spring fishing season. The season opens on Miramichi Bay on May 1.

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal and federal negotiator James MacKenzie hope to calm the troubled waters of the Maritime fishery following last year's Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of native fisherman Donald Marshall.

The ruling said Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people have the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, hunting and gathering based on 18th-century treaties.

A subsequent clarification by the court said the right is subject to federal regulation.

But Ottawa's inability to reach a deal with Burnt Church could be a serious blow to the chances for a peaceful fishing season.

The most violent confrontations sparked by the court decision were at Burnt Church.

During a week of upheaval last fall, a cottage was burned, two aboriginal men were injured when their truck was rammed, a native religious structure was set on fire and about 3,000 native lobster traps were cut and destroyed by non-native fishermen.

Lambert said the people of Burnt Church were insulted by a recent provincial court decision against the vandals who cut native traps.

The 22 non-native fishermen charged in the incident were each fined $400.

''The anger was there when those fines were handed down to the 22 fishermen,'' Lambert said. ''It was an insult.''

Lambert said the court decision helped sour attitudes toward an agreement.

''The federal government has never said anything about compensation for our lost traps,'' she said. ''No one has ever given us a concrete answer.''

Lambert said native and federal negotiators have also been talking at cross-purposes.

She said Ottawa is only talking about aboriginals joining the commercial fishery. But she said people want to be able to go out and catch a few lobsters for their own needs, especially in the fall when the commercial season is closed.

''Ottawa has done nothing for us,'' Lambert said.

''We have been offered access to the commercial fishery but only with the same seasons as the non-native fishery. The community here wishes to continue fall food fishing, so James MacKenzie really didn't give us too much.''