Weather foils defiant natives

The London Free Press
Sunday, October 10, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. The forces of nature, not the pressures of government or aboriginal leaders, conspired to keep defiant native lobster fishers off the waters of Miramichi Bay yesterday.

Strong, cold winds, high seas and rain turned the eastern New Brunswick shore into a no-fishing zone on what also was the first day of a voluntary moratorium in the turbulent Maritime lobster fishery.

The fishers of the Mi'kmaq Burnt Church reserve remain defiant and determined to pursue out-of-season fishing and hunting, despite a call by Atlantic chiefs to stay off the water.

But most fishers have only small open boats and were not about to risk their lives for treaty rights that have provoked turmoil and violence in the New Brunswick lobster fishery.

Robert Sylliboy of Burnt Church was one of dozens of fishers who hunkered down in his house rather than head out onto the treacherous waters.

He said the fishery is coming to a natural close due to the cold weather and migratory patterns of the lobster, making them harder to catch.

He figured fishing soon will be pretty much done in Miramichi Bay but he's vowing to leave some of his traps in longer to prove a point.

"It's out of principle, it's not out of spite," Sylliboy said. "They gave us this right and I'm exercising it. It's the principle of the thing."

Only one native went fishing yesterday but the wharf at Burnt Church was busy. Dozens of new lobster traps were unloaded from a truck to replace some of those lost a week ago when angry non-native fishers destroyed hundreds of native traps.

That led to escalating violence in which, among other things, a non-native cottage was burned, a native place of worship was torched and a native man was hurt in a truck-ramming incident.

The RCMP have yet to lay any charges. They said investigations are continuing and, in the meantime, they've beefed up security with more patrol cars and a special tactical team on standby in nearby Neguac.

The violence and vandalism were triggered by reaction to last month's Supreme Court of Canada decision that found Maritime natives have a priority right to year-round hunting, fishing and gathering.

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal was expected to announce today what he'll do to regulate the fishery.