Residents living under 'state of siege': Vandalism, mistrust kill neighbourly relations

The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, October 6, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. -- Evan Savoy stood in front of his friend's damaged shed yesterday, wondering grimly how relations between native and non- native neighbours could turn so hostile over aboriginal fishing rights.

''We were finally getting along well with the natives,'' Mr. Savoy, 47, a lifelong resident of the area, said after surveying the garage door rammed by a truck in a dispute related to fishing.

''I'm in jail now. The only thing that's missing is the bars ... We're being (held) hostage here in this community. This community did not ask for this. This community did nothing to bother them.''

Tensions remained high yesterday following days of fiery and violent confrontations between native and non-native residents over aboriginal fishing rights granted by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

Late Monday, a vacant summer home owned by non-natives was set on fire and RCMP reported another attempted arson yesterday.

Burning bottles of fuel were found next to a shed located off the reserve and owned by non-aboriginals, said RCMP Cpl. Jacques Giroux.

Yesterday afternoon, a gazebo-like structure on the reserve and used by natives for religious ceremonies was destroyed in a fire the RCMP said was deliberately set.

''They destroyed a church, a place where we came to celebrate our heritage,'' said a reserve resident.

A spokesman for the Burnt Church First Nation said the arson has made an already tense situation even worse.

''We are asking our people to remain calm and no physical confrontations,'' Alec Dedam, the band's comptroller, said outside a meeting of Atlantic chiefs in Halifax late yesterday.

Mr. Dedam said Mi'kmaq warriors, who are on the reserve as peacekeepers under the direction of the chief and council, had stepped up security in Burnt Church as a result of the fire.

''We are living under a state of siege,'' said one woman whose property was vandalized Sunday. ''We're scared to death.''

The woman, who has asked for police protection, is worried someone will follow through on threats made against her family and property.

As she spoke, several police cars and vans cruised up and down her once-quiet country road.

Some natives say an isolated group of people is likely behind the violence; that most aboriginals are opposed to any confrontations.

''We were getting along until this happened,'' said Anne Dedam, a native fisherwoman from the reserve. ''Now when you drive up to a stop light and see a non-native, you get the finger.''