Burnt Church natives hire lobbyist

Lawyer to contact federal officials in lobster dispute

National Post
Friday, September 29, 2000

The native band involved in a fishing dispute in Burnt Church, N.B., has hired a lobbyist to approach several federal departments, including the RCMP.

Peter O'Neill, a local lawyer, was hired this week by the band as its first-ever lobbyist.

"We're just looking at all the different avenues that might be available to us," said Karen Sommerville, a spokeswoman for the band. "So he's basically doing that kind of research."

Mr. O'Neill declined to comment on his role. But a lobbyist registration form indicates that he will be contacting federal fisheries officials as well as officials in the Department of Justice, Solicitor-General's office, Indian and Northern Affairs and Environment Canada.


Mr. O'Neill has been involved with the band before. He is currently representing some members who face criminal charges of obstruction. He also represented Noah Augustine, a local aboriginal leader, who faced murder charges in 1998. Mr. Augustine was acquitted in 1999 after a high-profile trial. He is currently one of many native leaders advising the Burnt Church band.

Jacques Boissinot, The Canadian Press

Peter O'Neill represents some band members who face charges.
The fishing dispute centres around rights the band claims it has to trap lobster out of season. Fisheries officials have said the native fishing is endangering conservation of lobster stocks. A mediation involving Bob Rae, the former Ontario premier, failed and this week fisheries officers began pulling up native traps. That has sparked concerns about violence and yesterday fisheries officers stayed away from traps set close to shore.

"The role they are playing is trying to provoke our people and taunt our people," said Ms. Sommerville. She added that hiring Mr. O'Neill as a lobbyist is not a sign that the band is backing down from its position that it has the right to fish in the area.

In a speech at the University of Alberta in Edmonton yesterday, Matthew Coon Come, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, accused Herb Dhaliwal, the Fisheries Minister, of provoking a showdown between natives and DFO enforcement officers.

"The DFO is trying to write the last chapter of what is going to happen [in Burnt Church] through their provocation," Mr. Coon Come said.

"There is an excessive and dangerous use of force because of a minister who wants to play cowboys and Indians.

He said the Mi'kmaq of Burnt Church had no choice but to take to the waters to defend their traditional waters, as they faced being "starved into political submission."

Mr. Coon Come also accused the federal government of breaching its fiduciary duty to the native peoples of Burnt Church and twisting the words of the Supreme Court to support its position in the fishery battle.

"Canadians may not realize it but the natives of this country are ruled under a dictatorial regime," he said. "We will no longer accept the law that Canadians have set aside for us.