Situation remains tense in Burnt Church

Canadian Press
Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Burnt Church, N.B. — Federal fisheries boats maintained their presence at a native fishing area Wednesday in northeastern New Brunswick, appearing at Miramichi Bay along with a coast guard helicopter.

The aircraft made several passes over the heads of native fishermen collecting lobsters and baiting traps from three small craft about 10 kilometres from the Burnt Church reserve.

On Tuesday, officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans scooped up more than a dozen traps in darting raids, avoiding confrontation with six native Warrior boats.

There have been a couple of dozen self-styled native warriors in the area. The warriors, who have come from around the Maritimes, patrol the area and control access to the local government wharf near the reserve.

Robert Allain, regional director for DFO, said 18 wooden traps were destroyed Tuesday by officers at sea, while 13 steel traps were seized.

"There was an operation under way," Mr. Allain said. "It was of a smaller-scale variety."

The latest seizures came as native leaders in Ontario pledged support for those in Burnt Church. The Chiefs of Ontario group said a delegation of 250 provincial leaders and elders would travel to the New Brunswick reserve on the weekend.

And in Nova Scotia, Chief Lawrence Paul of the Millbrook reserve predicted more confrontations next summer unless Ottawa includes native bands in its fisheries policy.

Burnt Church Warrior leader James Ward called Tuesday's operation ineffectual — more of a statement to keep non-white fishermen at bay than a conservation or enforcement measure.

Officials have also revised their estimates of the number of native traps still in the water to between 250 and 300, down from more than 500 estimated earlier in the week. Mr. Allain said the only remaining traps are directly in front of the reserve.

While the Burnt Church band council has declared that its season will end Oct. 7, some fishermen have said they planned to remove their traps earlier as lobsters began their migration farther out to sea.

Native fishermen in St. Mary's Bay, on Nova Scotia's southwestern shore, began pulling up some of their traps Wednesday morning.

They said they cannot afford to replace the traps they've already lost to the DFO and want to keep the few traps they have left, CBC-TV reported. More than 1,500 illegal traps and two native boats have been confiscated in St. Mary's Bay.

Twenty-nine of the Maritime bands reached interim agreements with Ottawa after the Supreme Court of Canada clarified its ruling in the case of Mi'kmaq fisherman Donald Marshall.

The decision orignially said natives have a treaty right to fish where and when they wish, saying they can earn "moderate livelihoods" from their catches, but the clarification last November said the treaty right is subject to regulation by the federal government.

The 29 bands are scheduled to negotiate permanent agreements by next spring, but most have said they will not talk until the Burnt Church dispute is resolved.

Natives from the Indian Brook band in Nova Scotia have also been fishing for lobster and have had equipment seized by federal officials.

Meanwhile, in Neguac, N.B., near Burnt Church, one of the men accused in connection with the fishing dispute will be back in court Oct. 12.

Roger LeBlanc, 41, a non-native, was arrested along with two other men last Saturday after shots were fired from a boat in waters off Burnt Church.

Mr. LeBlanc, who is from Neguac, made a brief court appearance Monday on charges of careless use of a firearm and possession of a weapon. He did not enter a plea.

The two others arrested in the incident have been released with no charges laid.