Tensions high in fish war

The Toronto Star
Tuesday, October 5, 1999

'We're not going to take this sitting down. It's going to be personal now and it's going to get worse before it gets better.'

A man waves a warrior flag on the wharf at Burnt Church, N.B., Yesterday. Fishermen destroyed native lobster pots in the bay Sunday.

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Despite a call for calm from Prime Minister Jean Chretien, neither side in the bitter war over native fishing rights appeared ready to give any ground yesterday.

Smoke billowed over a Micmac Indian reserve here for the second night in a row as a house went up in flames. Police said the blaze was deliberately set.

The torched house, a two-storey summer home owned by non-natives, is opposite the wharf where two pickup trucks were burned Sunday night.

A large crowd of Micmac people gathered to watch the house burn, chatting and laughing as firefighters quickly doused the blaze.

Chiefs from across Canada to gather in support of Micmac RCMP Constable Pierre Pellerin said the fire was a case of arson ''probably related'' to the fishing dispute.

Earlier yesterday members of the paramilitary Warrior Society set up guard on the wharf one day after non-native fishermen systematically destroyed every native lobster pot in Miramichi Bay.

Native fishermen had arranged for new traps to be delivered from a nearby reserve and were chugging out in small boats to meet them.

Chiefs from across Canada are to gather in Halifax tomorrow to show support for the Micmac, whose right to fish outside the season imposed on non-native fishermen was recently blessed by the Supreme Court.

Natives called for the laying of charges after three aboriginal men were injured - one of them seriously - during a night of vandalism and confrontation Sunday.

''What's going to happen if there are no charges, the natives are going to get p---d off and they're going to try to get even,'' said Kathy Lambert, a member of the Burnt Church First Nation. ''It could get violent.''

John David Dedam, 30, was still in hospital in nearby Newcastle after undergoing at least one surgery on his ear.

His brother, Clarence Dedam Jr., feared more violence if police don't lay charges.

''We're not going to take this sitting down,'' Dedam said at the Burnt Church wharf.

''It's going to be personal now and it's going to get worse before it gets better.''

Meanwhile, in Moncton and Yarmouth, non-native fishermen held rallies at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, demanding all native lobster pots be pulled from the sea immediately.

In Ottawa, the Prime Minister asked all parties to relax.

''I don't think violence will solve any problem at all,'' Chretien said. ''I am appealing for everyone to be calm.''

Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal is to arrive in the region today to meet with both sides.

Yesterday he condemned Sunday's violence and threatened to impose regulations on the new fishery if native groups can't immediately broker a truce.

Supreme Court ruling touched off dispute

Dhaliwal stressed he has the authority to close the fishery if natives and non-natives can't reach an interim solution on how to divide up the lobster catch.

The war started two weeks ago, when the Supreme Court recognized native rights to fish, hunt and gather some natural resources for profit. The Sept. 17 ruling sparked a rush to the water on some reserves, where some of this region's poorest people borrowed money to get traps and join the lucrative lobster fishery.

Chretien angered natives by raising the possibility of asking the Supreme Court to suspend its judgment until a solution could be negotiated, but Dhaliwal said this is not the preferred option.

In southwest Nova Scotia, Dhaliwal's officers were already imposing new regulations on the burgeoning industry yesterday, said spokesperson David Jennings.

DFO officers dragged the waters of southwest Nova Scotia for lobster pots yesterday, leaving only 1,006 traps that carried a special pink tag.

Jennings said officers seized any lobster pots that weren't already licensed by DFO as allowed for food and ceremonial purposes by full status natives. He also said the DFO has shut down a program that allowed non-status natives to fish lobster for food and ceremonial uses.

''Any pots put in since the (Supreme Court) decision that were not previously licensed, are not going to be legal in the water,'' he said.

The crackdown came just two days before a deadline set by Yarmouth fishermen to repeat the violence started in New Brunswick.

Yarmouth lobster fisherman Wayne Spinney said he and others will take their boats to the water tomorrow to remove any remaining lobster pots.

In New Brunswick, RCMP officials said it will be very difficult to lay charges against any of the hundreds of men who destroyed an estimated 2,600 native lobster traps on Sunday.

RCMP Corporal Jacques Giroux said they will only be able to lay charges if they can identify the exact owner of each trap and determine which specific protesters cut that trap.

Warrior Society there to 'keep the peace'

Men and women wearing combat fatigues erected three teepees on the wharf and the shore yesterday and delivered large logs for bonfires that were to burn through the night.

Many of the men shielded their faced with bandanas or netting. An RCMP helicopter buzzed the teepees several times during the day.

Clifford Larry is war chief of the secretive paramilitary Warrior Society for this reserve. He said the group gathered here to help ''keep the peace'' and support their people in a time of trouble.

He pointed out that members of his group and others helped escort a non- native man to safety Sunday night when a crowd of angry Micmacs turned on him.

Meanwhile, many native leaders yesterday seemed outraged by the idea that Chretien would try to get around the Supreme Court decision.

''I can't imagine what he is thinking,'' said Lawrence Paul, who is a moderate chief from Nova Scotia's Millbrook reserve.

''It's the highest court in the land. What can we believe, what can we trust if we can't rely on the Supreme Court? If they set this aside, everyone will always be asking them to do that in the future,'' he said.

''It's an insult,'' said Albert Martin, a band councillor here.

With files from Laura Eggertson in Ottawa and Canadian Press