Ottawa flotilla sinks native boats
Fisheries officers remove 900 `illegal' lobster traps during Miramichi boat duel
Wednesday, August 30, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Roaring boat engines and angry curses mingled in a dangerous chorus over New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay yesterday as the federal government flexed its muscles in the native lobster war.
A flotilla of at least 20 federal fisheries vessels moved into the bay early in the morning to remove lobster traps set by people from the Burnt Church reserve.
They were met on the water by angry native fishermen who used small boats to try to protect the traps, which Ottawa insists are illegal.
``It was like something out of a James Bond movie,'' said Chief Allison Metallic of the Listiguj First Nation, who has been trying to set up peace talks at the Mi'kmaq community.
But the skirmishes were no theatre, as boats dodged and duelled in the morning sunlight.
Two native boats sank in the melee; one was rammed. One native was doused with pepper spray, and a fisheries officer was hit in the jaw with a rock. Two natives were arrested.
People drifted out of their houses yesterday morning and lined up along the reserve shoreline to watch the fisheries raid and to shout their anger and frustration.
Ovide Mercredi, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called it ``unreasonable force'' on the part of the Canadian government. ``The possibility of dialogue has been frustrated by this latest raid,'' said Mercredi, who is advising national chief Matthew Coon Come on developments at Burnt Church. ``It would be very difficult now.''
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans countered that it has a responsibility to uphold the law, no matter what.
``Law enforcement is never pretty,'' said André Marc Lanteigne, spokesperson for the fisheries department. ``That's what it boils down to.''
Fisheries officers removed at least 900 traps from the water yesterday, leaving fewer than 100.
The situation on the reserve was calm by yesterday afternoon, as government fisheries officials and native boats retreated to consider their next move. Native fishermen said they would resume fishing as soon as they got more traps.
Since the latest troubles began on Miramichi Bay three weeks ago, federal fisheries officers have seized almost 2,000 native traps.
The Mi'kmaq people of Burnt Church want to lobster fish under their own rules. They believe they have a treaty right to do so, as upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in last year's Marshall decision.
Meanwhile, the Tobique First Nation in northwestern New Brunswick rejected a $7.5-million fishery agreement with the federal government.
``We're supporting Burnt Church,'' Councillor Mae Perley said yesterday. ``The people rejected it and we'll have to come up with our own regulations.''.