N.B. Natives quit talks, 'Going to fish'

CHRIS MORRIS, Canadian Press
The London Free Press
Wednesday, March 15, 2000

FREDERICTON. Defiant native fishers in northern New Brunswick have walked away from the federal negotiating table and are preparing to go fishing -- on their own terms.

Kathy Lambert, a councillor at the Burnt Church First Nation on Miramichi Bay, said yesterday the reserve has given up on reaching an agreement with Ottawa on sharing the lobster fishery with non- native, commercial fishers.

"The community wishes for us not to sign any agreements at this point but come up with our own management plans and use the (court) decision," Lambert said.

"We're just going to fish. It's our communal right and we're going to exercise that right."

Ottawa is trying to negotiate agreements with Mi'kmaq and Maliseet communities in the Maritimes in time for the spring fishing season, which on Miramichi Bay opens May 1.

Last year's Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of native fisher Donald Marshall said Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people have the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, hunting and gathering, based on 18th- century treaties. A subsequent clarification by the court said the right is subject to federal regulation.

But Ottawa's inability to reach a deal with Burnt Church could be a serious blow to the chances for a peaceful fishing season. The most violent confrontations sparked by the court decision were at Burnt Church.

During a week of upheaval last fall, a cottage was burned; a truck was rammed, injuring two aboriginal men; a native religious structure was set on fire; and about 3,000 native lobster traps were cut and destroyed by non- native fishers.

Lambert said a recent provincial court decision against the vandals who cut native traps "was an insult" to the people of Burnt Church and helped sour attitudes toward an agreement.

The 22 non-native fishers charged in the incident were each fined $ 400.