Hope fades for peaceful end to Native-fishery dispute

The Toronto Star
Friday, October 8, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Both sides in a bitter war over native fishing rights have angrily rejected a cooling-off period, killing any hope of a quick, peaceful end to the violent dispute.

''We are going to keep fishing and defend our rights,'' said native fisherman Douglas Dedam after a two-hour meeting at the school house here.

''We ain't going to stick around on welfare all our lives; we need lobster to survive.''

More than 200 members of this reserve yesterday refused to go along with a blanket 30-day moratorium on fishing proposed by 35 Micmac and Maliseet chiefs.

Non-native fishermen also rejected the universal moratorium. They will put their boats into the water in the Bay of Fundy Oct. 15, when the season there opens. But many continued to call on Ottawa to ban the new native fishery recently blessed by the Supreme Court.

Calling the blanket moratorium a ''disgusting and ridiculous idea,'' Alma fisherman Martin Collins said none of the 92 non-native fishermen of his area would go along with the plan to have everyone stop fishing during negotiations.

''It's absurd of government to tell us we can't go fishing because of the request of some Indians who pay no taxes and have no business in the fishery at all,'' he said.

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal will wait until tomorrow to decide whether to close the East Coast lobster fishery, he said yesterday in Ottawa.

But a decision by the Burnt River First Nation and non- native fishermen in Yarmouth not to recognize a moratorium does not necessarily kill an agreement to avoid more violence, Dhaliwal said.

''You've got to understand, there are 35 bands and it's not always easy to get unanimity.

'We ain't going to stick around on welfare all our lives' ''They still have time to talk and talk to their leaders.''

Officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were trying to salvage the moratorium idea last night.

Native and non-native fishermen have been locked in conflict for three weeks, since the Supreme Court recognized Micmac and Maliseet people have the right to hunt, fish and gather natural resources for profit. Hundreds of native people joined the lucrative lobster fishery, setting traps in areas that are out of season for non-native fishermen.

That enraged their non- native neighbours. Sunday morning, hundreds of non-native fishermen destroyed thousands of native lobster traps in Miramichi Bay, wiping out the budding fishery.

The raid prompted three nights of violence. Two trucks owned by non-native fishermen were burned on the wharf, three native men were injured after their truck was rammed by a non-native fisherman, a sacred ceremonial hut was set ablaze, as was the summer cottage of a non-native family not involved in the fishery.

Yesterday afternoon, 40 non-native residents gathered outside a small church here to pray for peace.

A spiritual leader from the nearby reserve was the only native person who attended the public service, which was held at the same time as the meeting to discuss the moratorium.

''We are all sisters and brothers of God, we are all sisters and brothers of the earth,'' Micmac spiritual leader gkisedtanamoogk told the small crowd.

''Thinking about the days yet to come, you know in your hearts we are all seeking the same thing.''

Members of the paramilitary Warriors Peacekeeping Society continued to blockade the rutted road to the wharf, allowing only native fishermen and their invited guests to pass by.

Native fishermen yesterday pledged to keep fishing lobster, but also said that the season here would soon end.

Within two weeks, it would be too cold to fish and the lobster will have travelled to deeper waters far from the bay.

Mike Belliveau, of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, yesterday renewed calls for a moratorium on native fishing, saying the government should ban native fishing if they refuse to pull their traps from the water by tomorrow morning. But he did not endorse a moratorium for non-native fishermen.

'In your hearts we are all seeking the same thing' Collins said the members of his Alma Fishermen's Association would be devastated by any moratorium this fall. ''It's thousands of dollars, money people need to live,'' he said.

Last night the mayor of a nearby town also called for a ban on the new native fishery.

Neguac Mayor Richard Breault yesterday emerged from a meeting with 30 non-native fisherman and called on ''Humpty Dumpty Dhaliwal'' to close the native fishery.

With files from Laura Eggertson in Ottawa