Non-native says his boat shot by native fishermen
Aboriginals deny shooting, call it a ploy to force action by fisheries officers

National Post
Saturday, September 23, 2000

Native women embrace yesterday in Burnt Church, N.B., where aboriginals from across Canada gathered to show support for native fishermen.

Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press
Native fishermen head out to check their lobster traps in Miramichi Bay early yesterday. Federal fisheries officers worked through the night Thursday to remove native traps, but it is believed several hundred remain.

Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Tempers flared yesterday in New Brunswick after a non-native fisherman reported his boat had been hit by a bullet fired from a native boat in waters off Burnt Church.

Nobody was injured, but the incident compounded the frustration of non-native fishermen who expected the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans to close the native lobster fishery when yesterday's 11 a.m. deadline passed.

Instead, fisheries officers stayed off the water after scooping up 113 traps overnight Thursday.

"DFO's doing nothing. The RCMP's doing nothing. We can't even take a boat out without getting shot at," one fisherman said on the wharf in nearby Neguac, N.B., minutes before two of his friends threatened reporters and ordered them off the wharf.

Inspector Kevin Vickers of the RCMP said police are investigating the complaint from the fishing boat's four-man crew.

"The information I have at this time from our investigators is that the vessel was struck by a bullet," he confirmed. The bullet pierced the back of the wheelhouse and shattered the toilet.

Wilbur Dedam, chief of the Burnt Church First Nation, stressed that details of the incident remain to be confirmed, but said "any act of violence" is condemned by all of Burnt Church. "In this current atmosphere of extreme tension and threatened enforcement, extreme caution and restraint is required of all parties," he said in a written statement.

But a crew member of the boat fired upon, who did not want to be identified, said fishermen will not be able to restrain themselves much longer if DFO does not clear away the 1,900 lobster traps it estimates are in Miramichi Bay.

"It's pretty tense. There better be something done because there's going to be a civil war," he told CTV News. "They made the first move, so what are we going to do? We can't stand back and let them have a free-for-all."

Inspector Vickers said RCMP specialists were examining the boat to determine what kind of bullet was fired. He said investigators have no suspects.

James Ward, head of security for Burnt Church, was on the water soon after the shooting is alleged to have occurred. He accused the non-natives of fabricating the incident in a bid to force the hand of the police and DFO.

"I know our guys didn't do it. I was on one of the other boats and there was nothing resembling a gunshot," he said. He said the only weapons carried on the Mi'kmaq boats are "sticks and stones."

Herb Dhaliwal, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who said on Thursday he would tolerate no fishing after 11 a.m. yesterday, was not commenting on the alleged shooting.

He said his officers will continue to remove native traps, taking "every step to avoid confrontation and conflict." It is unreasonable, he said, to expect all traps will be removed. "Every effort will be made to stop illegal fishing," Mr. Dhaliwal said in an interview from Ottawa. "It's impossible to locate and remove every illegal trap."

He added that his officers will also act to shut down the sale of native-caught lobster.

As the 11 a.m. deadline passed, the Mi'kmaq of Burnt Church gathered on the waterfront to drum, sing and pray for protection, joined by dozens of aboriginal supporters from British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said natives across Canada will rise up if DFO continues its "savage and vicious attacks" on Burnt Church.

"As we see it in British Columbia, an attack on people here is an attack on all aboriginal people across the country," he said.