Indian leaders join struggle as Ottawa moves to clear traps
Thursday, September 28, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - A half-dozen native boats chased federal boats across Miramichi Bay yesterday after enforcement officers moved in to pull more native lobster traps.
The late-afternoon raid occurred within a few hundred metres of a government wharf that native warriors have occupied off-and-on since a dispute over native fishing resumed last month.
It wasn't immediately clear if the few enforcement vessels in the operation pulled or destroyed any traps. There were also no reports of a repeat of collisions that marred earlier confrontations.
Robert Allain, regional director for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, estimated about 250 native traps remained in the bay - the vast majority of them in shallow waters just in front of the reserve. Nearly 1,400 have been seized or destroyed since last Friday.
``The traps inshore are a bit more difficult (to seize) because the risk factors are a little higher,'' he said earlier in the day.
``But the officers will plan for that accordingly. The RCMP will assist us if we require it and we'll make every effort to try to remove those traps.''
It was quiet on the bay for most of the day as a few stalwart Mi'kmaqs collected lobsters and baited traps while a coast guard helicopter passed overhead and government vessels kept watch from afar.
Allain said enforcement operations would continue despite undertakings by several natives to remove their traps by Sunday, a week ahead of the band's self-declared schedule.
``The fishery was closed as of last Friday morning and the intention is still to remove as many traps as possible,'' Allain said. ``We'd like to terminate this as quickly as possible, but we're getting mixed signals from Burnt Church as to when they'll terminate the fishery.''
`Burnt Church symbolizes . . . how important it is . . . to resist government policies and laws that violate our treaty rights.'
|- Ovide Mercredi |
First Nations adviser
Some traps have already come ashore and other native fishermen have declared they will pull their traps Oct. 1, when bands around the Maritimes celebrate Treaty Day - traditionally the day that government and chiefs were to meet each year to discuss treaty issues and renew commitments.
While that has rarely been the case since the 18th-century treaties were signed, natives have used the day to gather, talk, pray and celebrate.
The latest seizures came as native leaders in Ontario pledged support for those in Burnt Church. A delegation of 250 provincial leaders and elders planned to travel to the reserve for Treaty Day.
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 symbolizes to the Indian people our determination as a people to have our treaty rights honoured by Canada,'' said Ovide Mercredi, senior fisheries adviser to the Assembly of First Nations who has been dispatched to help and advise local leaders.
``Burnt Church symbolizes to the Indian people how important it is to our people to resist government policies and laws that violate our treaty rights.
``And Burnt Church represents to the Indian people across the country what a community can do if they set aside their differences for the common good of their future generations.''
The band's hereditary chief, Lloyd Augustine, said there is no symbolism in the removal of traps on Treaty Day. It's simply a matter of practicality, he said - the lobsters are migrating into deeper water.
In a landmark decision last fall, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that natives have the right to make a moderate living hunting, fishing and gathering. The decision came after fisherman Donald Marshall was convicted in 1993 of fishing eels out of season and without a licence.
In a rare follow-up clarification, the court said the federal government had the right to regulate the fishery under certain circumstances.