Native urges talks to avoid fishing war

The Toronto Star
Wednesday, September 29, 1999

HALIFAX, N.S. The Micmac man at the centre of this region's brewing fish war yesterday made an emotional appeal to native people to pull their lobster pots from the sea to prevent bloodshed on Maritime wharves.

''Everything is way out of control right now; I don't want anybody to get hurt,'' Donald Marshall Jr. said in a phone interview from Cape Breton.

''Our leaders, federal officials and others have to sit down and work it out or all hell will break loose.

''The reason we want them to pull their traps out of the water is violence; everyone is confused about what's going on,'' he said.

Meanwhile, federal fishery officials yesterday laid charges against two Metis men near Yarmouth, N.S.

Just 13 days ago, Marshall won a historic Supreme Court decision that recognizes Micmac and Maliseet people have the legal right to profit from many of this region's natural resources, including fish and wild game.

That ruling prompted scores of native people to cash in on the lucrative lobster trade. That, in turn, has enraged non-native fishermen, who must follow strict regulations about when and how lobsters are caught.

In Yarmouth and Neguac, N.B., fishermen have talked of burning native fish boats, destroying their gear, cutting loose their traps and even killing Micmac people who exercise their newly recognized rights to fish.

Marshall said yesterday that he is troubled by the current of violence unleashed by his court victory.

''The last few days, I couldn't sleep too good,'' he said.

''I don't want to jeopardize the people of Nova Scotia either. You can't turn your back on people. If we stick together, we'll get things done.''

Micmac chiefs last night discussed Marshall's plea at a closed door meeting in Fredericton. They are to decide today whether they should follow his advice and ask their members to stop fishing until tempers cool.

Lawrence Paul, chief of Nova Scotia's 1,100-member Millbrook band, thought Marshall's plea made sense.

But at least one chief disagreed, saying native people waited too long for the court to recognize their treaty rights to give up now.

''If there are threats, if someone tries violence, well that's why we have law and order and police to protect us,'' said Chief Michael Augustine of New Brunswick's Red Bank reserve.

''The natives are directly taking from other people's livelihood,'' said Mike Belliveau, executive secretary of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

''They have backed the boys into a corner. Nobody is advocating crazy stuff, but a lot of crazy stuff is being talked about.''

New Brunswick fishermen decided last night not to go through with threats to destroy native traps today. Instead they will wait a few more days, one said, before acting.

In Ottawa, ministers appealed once again for patience and calm, saying justice department lawyers have been asked to clarify the ruling. One thing they are trying to figure out is whether the ruling applies only to people with full native status or those who can prove some native heritage.

The two men charged yesterday in Yarmouth are not band members, but claim native heritage.

Justice officials are also looking at whether the court conferred individual or communal rights, and what the justices meant by saying the aboriginals had the right to make a ''reasonable'' living.

''I think in the next two days when we clarify some of these important issues we'll have a better idea of what sort of regulations and what options we have. So I think we'll have to be patient,'' said Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien stressed the government will come up with a solution as quickly as possible, although he would not say what Ottawa's options are.

With files from Laura Eggertson