Communities torn asunder in lobster war

The Toronto Star
Sunday, October 10, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Martina Parker has had enough. Had enough of the violence and the tension between native and non-native that has gripped her northern New Brunswick community ever since she and other aboriginals began exercising their right to catch lobster for profit.

''I'm just tired of it,'' Parker says as she and her 13-year-old grandson load wooden lobster traps on to an old trailer on the Burnt Church wharf.

''I don't feel like fishing anymore. I've proved my point.''

But she stresses that she'll be back on the water again next year - even though her white neighbours still may not like her being out there.

There are hard feelings and blame on both sides - aboriginal and white - for what's happened in Burnt Church over the last couple of weeks.

Hundreds of native lobster traps have been destroyed. Racist insults screamed. Non-native fishermen's pickup trucks set ablaze. A sacred native ceremonial arbour burned to the ground. Lobster processing plants vandalized.

One non-native fisherman said relations between the two communities have been set back half a century and many wonder how things will ever heal now.

Parker, who is married to a white man she describes as being behind her ''100 per cent,'' says most of the whites she knows now treat her ''just like a stranger.''

She wants peace.

''Maybe people starting to take traps out, maybe the healing will start.''

Parker, the daughter of a fisherman, was thrilled last month when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a 1760 treaty gives Atlantic natives the right to fish, hunt and gather enough to provide for a ''moderate'' lifestyle.

Three of her grown children said they'd like to give fishing a try. Parker, a medical driver, was all in favour and bought some traps and a boat.

Most of those traps were lost when non-native commercial fishermen went out on to Miramichi Bay with knives to destroy the native fishing industry last weekend.

It's that act that angered Robert Sylliboy so much he vows to leave some of his traps in the water - despite the fact it's getting too cold to fish and the fishing isn't very good.

''It's just principle,'' says Sylliboy, who catches lobster to supplement what he makes as a carpenter.

His family lives in a crowded little house on the Burnt Church reserve.

Tears drop down his wife's cheeks when she talks about the traps that non- natives ruined.

''They destroyed our property and they had no right doing that,'' she says bitterly, refusing to have her name published.

She says there has always been some racism here. ''Behind your back, you could hear, 'Dirty Indian, go back to the reserve,' '' she says.

But now it's worse and it's out in the open, she says.

Non-native fisherman Bill Loggie, who traps lobster on Miramichi Bay, is also bitter.

''As long as I'm living . . . I'll never have anything to do with natives,'' Loggie says.

A moment later, he clarifies. Loggie says he knows some natives who are ''just as good as anybody,'' it's only some of the more radical ones he plans to avoid.

He argues Burnt Church's non-natives have been unfairly characterized. An incident in which a native's truck was rammed, sending the driver to hospital with serious injuries, happened only after someone tried to break into a locked shed.

''There have been lives threatened,'' he says.

Loggie blames the federal government for destroying the peace between the two communities by not responding sooner to the top court's decision. ''They have put it back at least 50 years.''

Richard Breault, mayor of a village next to the reserve, thinks it will take time before people to put the relationship back together again.

''People's minds are still in a high-tension mode,'' he says. ''You have to be ready for dialogue. I think you have to give people a chance to rest first. ''

Rough weather yesterday kept almost all native lobster boats
moored at the wharf they control in Burnt Church, N.B.