Violence feared as fishing row spreads east
Focus in lobster dispute shifts to N.S.; Band Chief 'worries about a tragedy'

The Globe and Mail
Monday, August 21, 2000

Shubenacadie, N.S. and Ottawa -- SUSAN BOURETTE in Shubenacadie, N.S.
MARK MacKINNON in Ottawa

The focus in the dispute about native fishing rights in Atlantic Canada has shifted to the Mi'kmaq Indian Brook band in Nova Scotia, where federal officials have been embroiled in violent clashes with fishermen in recent days.

Fisheries officers continued on the weekend to pull up the band's lobster traps in St. Marys Bay, where tensions have been rising for months, culminating in violence and the arrest of four band members Friday.

Meanwhile, in Burnt Church, N.B., Mi'kmaqs celebrated a truce Friday evening at a powwow after a week in which reserve and fisheries officials were locked in a standoff over control of the lobster fishery.

The two Mi'kmaq bands have been major flashpoints since the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its decision in the Donald Marshall case last fall -- giving natives the right to fish, hunt and gather for a "moderate living" -- and have been thorns in Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal's attempts to find a solution ever since.

Yesterday, the chief of the Indian Brook band vowed to continue fishing near New Edinburgh in St. Marys Bay, no matter what the consequences. But Chief Reg Maloney concedes he is worried that the conflict will escalate.

"I have to tell you that I am worried about a tragedy. That people are going to be hurt," the 59-year-old chief said. "The Department of Fisheries officials are dressed for a war and they've got nowhere to go. So they found us.

"We will continue to fish and fish and fish. That is our right; our ancestors signed a treaty and it is up to the federal government to recognize it," Mr. Maloney added, waving a large ironplated medallion, a gift from King George III in 1814 to the band's ancestors, which band members consider to be a symbol of the treaty and recognition of their sovereignty.

St. Marys Bay, where about 50 members of the Indian Brook band have fished each summer during the past five years, is located about 250 kilometres from the band's reserve in Shubenacadie.

Last week, Assembly of First Nations national chief Matthew Coon Come declared that native fishing rights are the "front line" in the broader struggle for aboriginal rights in Canada.

Wendy Williams, a spokesperson for the federal Fisheries Department in Halifax, told reporters that fisheries officers seized 107 of the Indian Brook fishermen's traps Saturday morning. About 900 of the band's traps have been seized to date.

Donnie Jeans, whose boat was confiscated by the fisheries department Friday, said he is still shaking from the violent encounter. He said the jolt from the federal fisheries boat -- which rammed into his own 12-metre vessel -- sent several crew members flying and smashed the top of his boat to pieces.

"We didn't give them any sass or anything like that. We just asked what was going on after they rammed into our boat. About 20 of them jumped on board and started handcuffing people," Mr. Jeans said.

He said the fishermen were simply enjoying a day in the sun fishing for mackerel when the conflict erupted. Fisheries officials told them the arrests were related to an incident that happened the previous week, but didn't elaborate.

Officials in the Halifax Fisheries Department couldn't be reached yesterday.

Lawyers for the Indian Brook band filed papers with the federal court Friday claiming its decision to prevent the band from fishing lobster commercially is unconstitutional. They are also demanding the return of four of the band members' fishing boats.

The band had asked to be able to fish with up to 800 lobster traps for commercial purposes between July and October. But Mr. Dhaliwal rejected that request, alloting the fishermen 35 traps.

Mr. Dhaliwal has signed fishing-quota agreements with 29 of the 34 Atlantic native bands. They are only interim deals, and officials worry that any impasse with either the Indian Brook or Burnt Church Mi'kmaqs could unravel efforts elsewhere on the east coast.

Until Burnt Church and Indian Brook sign on, he said, fisheries officers will watch them closely.

"We can't let two bands dictate the solution. They have to recognize that Canadian law is for everyone," Mr. Dhaliwal said.