The angry face of Miramichi Bay
Fishing dispute escalates as native warriors keep vigil at barricades on N.B. reserve

Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Tuesday, August 15, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Armed supporters of native fishermen patrolled the perimeter of this troubled reserve last night, keeping vigil on the water and at twin barricades blocking a small highway.

Less than 24 hours after a violent conflict on Miramichi Bay, native fishermen were preparing to drop new lobster traps in the water in defiance of federal fishery regulations.

As darkness fell on the ragged homes of this reserve, men lined up at a community centre to get new fishing tags, and stacked wooden traps on the shore near their small aluminum skiffs.

``The fight will be long, but we will not give up,'' said James Ward, who has helped organize this reserve's fight against federal authority on the water.

Late Sunday night, 60 fisheries officers swooped across Miramichi Bay in 15 boats to seize more than 700 native lobster traps in what turned into a violent confrontation that saw four men arrested.

One of the men arrested is a popular band councillor who helped organize the native fishery.

Brian Bardibogue is a jovial, quick-witted man whose persuasive rhetoric has often set the tone for this issue. After the band voted to defy Ottawa in a referendum last week, Bardibogue was one of the first back on the water, loading eight traps on the stern of his small white boat - the Freedom Won - to drop just off the shore of this reserve.

Bardibogue yesterday said fisheries officers choked him unconscious Sunday night after he resisted arrest on the water. His boat was also seized.

People here crowded around Bardibogue last night to examine red wounds on both sides of his neck and a slash across his forehead.

``Tell the people of Canada to pressure their political leaders to leave us alone to find a moderate livelihood, as the Supreme Court ruled,'' Bardibogue said before finally heading home to see his wife and two young children.

The Supreme Court ruled last fall that Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people have a treaty right to fish commercially, though it also ruled Ottawa has a right to regulate that fishery under some conditions.

The ruling sparked a series of confrontations across the region that culminated here when 100 commercial fishermen destroyed 4,000 traps legally set by the people of Burnt Church First Nation last fall.

Ottawa has since struck deals with most Maritime reserves. However, Burnt Church has refused to sign any deal. Ottawa wants to limit the reserve's summer fishery to just 40 traps. The reserve wants to fish up to 6,000 traps this summer under a rule that would see each person here get the right to drop four lobster traps in the water.

More than 25 people showed up yesterday to support Bardibogue and the others who were arrested Sunday night. The crowd screamed at fisheries officials entering the courthouse, sparking police to intervene.

André Marc Lanteigne is spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He confirmed that federal officers used pepper spray during the arrests, but denied they drew their guns as several witnesses have claimed. ``Law enforcement is never pretty,'' Lanteigne said yesterday. ``But I can assure you that no one was beaten and no one was hurt. Only reasonable force was used.''

Native people from around the region began to arrive here yesterday to support the reserve in its fight.

Warriors from the Big Cove reserve helped patrol barricades set up across Highway 11, which connects the Acadian Peninsula to the rest of New Brunswick. The Warrior Society is a secretive paramilitary group that was at the centre of the Oka crisis.

Motorists were forced to take a 10-minute detour around the barricades, which closed off roughly two kilometres of highway.

Traffic continued to move smoothly along the highway despite the detour and RCMP Sergeant Roger Somers said he doesn't expect to try to have the barricade removed.

``The last thing we want is a confrontation with them,'' he said.

Late last night the barricades were manned mostly by solemn teenagers, their faces covered by black masks. The group at one barricade dumped a small car upside down in the middle of the road, set it on fire and watched it burn.

Rangers from the Listiguj reserve arrived with two high speed patrol boats and four trucks yesterday. The 30 rangers are trained to patrol the Restigouche River and carry pistols.

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord appealed for calm and called for federal authorities to begin new negotiations with band leaders.

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal was not available for comment yesterday.