Aboriginal anger over Burnt Church spreads

Canadian Press
Friday, September 22, 2000

PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. - The explosive fishing dispute in Burnt Church, N.B., is fuelling aboriginal anger across Canada, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations told British Columbia aboriginal leaders yesterday.

``I'd hate to see what could happen across this country,'' said Matthew Coon Come.

``How long can we restrain our people?''

Aboriginals are witnessing the federal government, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, trampling the constitutional and treaty rights of the Burnt Church native fishermen to catch lobster, he said.

Coon Come suggested Ottawa will do the same thing to quell other aboriginal protests in Canada.

``What happens in Burnt Church definitely affects all of us,'' he said.

B.C.'s First Nations Summit, the largest aboriginal organization in the province, is holding a three-day meeting in this north coast city.

B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh addressed the leaders after Coon Come, but focused his remarks on treaty-making in the province.

``The B.C. government continues to believe that success in the current treaty process is critical to long-term stability in this province,'' he said. ``My government believes treaties are a matter of social justice.''

The Burnt Church area has been the scene of violent and verbal confrontations between aboriginals and federal fisheries officers, who have been removing lobster traps.

An attempt at reaching a mediated solution ended in failure Wednesday.

``The federal government seems to be saying it has the right to ram our fishing and ranger's boats, thereby endangering our lives, threatening public peace,'' Coon Come said.

``The Criminal Code says it's wrong. The Constitution says it's wrong. International laws of human rights say it's wrong. Common decency says it's wrong.''

He told B.C. aboriginal leaders that Ottawa will take similar steps to end future attempts by natives to exercise their treaty or constitutional rights.


`I don't think we can stand back any more and just sit and watch as billions of dollars are being extracted from our land. We truly are at the crossroads.'
- Matthew Coon Come National chief of
the Assembly of First Nations

``I don't think we can stand back any more and just sit and watch as billions of dollars are being extracted from our land,'' Coon Come said. ``We truly are at the crossroads.''

He said he would rather avoid confrontations, but aboriginals must stand together and fight against what is happening in Burnt Church.

Coon Come suggested mounting international campaigns and boycotts designed to tarnish Canada's world image as a tolerant nation.

``It's not just about blocking roads,'' he said.

B.C.'s aboriginal leaders appeared to agree with Coon Come's call for unity on Burnt Church. Several said they supported national and international campaigns to bring more attention to aboriginal issues.

Most leaders told Coon Come they were concerned about the slow pace of treaty talks in British Columbia with provincial and federal negotiators. There are few treaties in British Columbia and many aboriginal groups are voicing frustration about their inability to resolve longstanding disputes with government.