For good faith

National Post
Saturday, September 23, 2000

Conservation issues are a red herring in the Burnt Church dispute. How many Canadians realize that 11,000 commercial fishermen place about three million traps for an average of 272 traps per fisherman -- often over their legal limit with no enforcement of penalties? Against these numbers, the number of traps native fishermen are placing or planning to place is a drop in the bucket.

The real issue here is the relationship between the Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church) Mi'kmaq community and the people of Canada. Since the courts have determined that First Nations peoples have continuing historical rights to the fruits of the land (fisheries, hunting, forests) it is the role of the federal government to represent Canadians in a proper nation to nation negotiation to clarify the meaning and extent of those rights. Burnt Church should not have to use such confrontational tactics simply to bring the government to the negotiation table with a proper respect for natives as a sovereign people.

There must be no more use of force in the resolution of this dispute. Perhaps instead of trying to prove his authority, the federal minister could exercise some real leadership by negotiating with the Mi'kmaq people in good faith to ensure that there is an effective mechanism for regulating the overall fishery. This may involve shared responsibilities among several groups.

Frances Deverell, Coquitlam, B.C.