Tensions heating up in native fishery

Canadian Press
Monday, May 6, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. Fisheries officers seized native lobster traps in Burnt Church on Saturday, raising fears of another season of confrontation on Miramichi Bay.

One boat with several native fishermen tried to set about 10 traps, but Department of Fisheries officers hauled them up, said one native on this reserve just north of Miramichi, N.B.

''DFO wouldn't let him set his traps,'' said Robert Sylliboy, a native fisherman. ''Every time he set one in the water, they'd take them out.''

DFO says the traps are illegal because they do not carry tags issued by the department. The native band put its own tags on as part of its independent fisheries management program.

The band says centuries-old native treaties give it, not Ottawa, the right to manage the fishery.

Saturday was the first day natives tried to set traps using their own tags. Sylliboy said the native fisherman wanted to be a ''test case'' and that others will hit the waters soon.

''I'm going out. It's our right,'' he said.

Two members of a group called the Christian Peacemaker Team, who say they want to monitor the situation, were arrested shortly after the trap seizures.

William Payne said he and another member were trying to reclaim the native traps from the DFO vessel when it pulled into port.

They were taken to an RCMP vehicle and held there for about 30 minutes, but weren't charged, he said.

The group, which set up camp on the reserve about two weeks ago, says it wants to make sure the natives' rights aren't being violated after they witnessed several violent confrontations between non-native and aboriginal fishermen last October.

''Canada has a treaty with the Mi'kmaq nation which is not being respected,'' Payne said. ''They have their own management plan in place and that is not being respected.''

Natives say their right to the resource was reaffirmed last September when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Donald Marshall case that they could make a moderate living from fishing, hunting and gathering.

Unlike the Burnt Church native fishermen, Prince Edward Island, natives said they feel afraid to exert those rights. Mi'kmaq there said Friday they have been intimidated and threatened by non-native fishermen who don't want them on the water.

''I'm not sending any of our people out to be killed,'' Mike Gallant of the P.E.I. Native Council told the National Post. ''It's a touchy situation when you start going in on someone else's ground.''

Natives from the Abegweit First Nation received two fishing licences from Ottawa, which bought them from retiring non-native fishermen.

But natives were turned away from the wharf this week by non-native fishermen and were told they weren't welcome.

Non-native fishermen don't want the natives to relocate to their fishing area, even though some of the retired licences were being used there last year.