Tensions mount in N.B. fishing dispute
Women shaken by fishermen's anger as chief urges calm

Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Monday, September 25, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - The barricades were up again on the roads leading to Miramichi Bay yesterday after tempers flared in a dispute over native fishing rights.

Dozens of native warriors rolled a man-high web of barbed wire across a road here and set out truck-stopping spikes when rumours swirled that the reserve was about to be invaded by an army of angry commercial fishermen.

The barricade went down within minutes, after Burnt Church Chief Wilbur Dedam convinced warriors that there was no pending invasion. But it was just one in a series of incidents that heightened tensions throughout the day.

One native woman was left shaken, with a big dent in her red Camaro, after she was surrounded by a crowd of angry commercial fishermen near a wharf in nearby Neguac.


`I really thought they were going to kill me. I've been on a lot of missions, but I've never been through anything like that.'
- Tina Martin, member of Warrior Society

``I really thought they were going to kill me,'' said Tina Martin, 37, who is a member of a native paramilitary group called the Warrior Society.

``I've been on a lot of missions, but I've never been through anything like that.''

Martin is from the Tobique reserve, in northwestern New Brunswick. She has been here for several weeks, supporting Burnt Church's struggle to control its own lobster fishery.

Martin was headed to Tim Horton's when she saw a fishery boat headed down the road to a wharf used by non-native fishermen. She said she followed the boat because she wanted to film it going into the water.

``This is history. I try to film everything,'' she said.

Martin said she didn't go on the wharf, but stayed in her car in the parking lot. She said it took her several minutes to escape the crowd that quickly gathered around her Camaro, beating on the hood and sides.

RCMP have confirmed Martin's story. Yesterday morning, a CBC television reporter was confronted on the same wharf by a crowd that jostled her cameraman and grabbed her microphone.

Just a few hours later, RCMP stopped a truck full of warriors and seized a licensed hunting rifle, which they then returned.

The rifle seizure sparked a panic on the reserve, where many were expecting some sort of raid by non-native fishermen.

More than 40 men and women wearing fatigues and army utility belts immediately gathered on the Burnt Church wharf, getting ready to take to the water to protect lobster traps still in the water.

Fishery officials have seized 926 lobster traps in the last three days, and more than 2,500 in the two weeks before that.

Yesterday afternoon, fishery patrol boats could be seen slowly criss-crossing the water far from land.

Department spokesperson André Marc Lanteigne said the boats were dragging the bottom, looking for traps that were set without buoys to mark them.

Karen Somerville, who speaks for the band council, says there are only ``a handful'' of traps left in the water. But there are 207 marker buoys lying just off shore that can be seen with the naked eye.

Burnt Church has been locked in a fight with Ottawa for a year over who controls the right to fish lobster.

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal insists that he has sole authority over who fishes, how they fish and when.

Burnt Church claims it has a treaty right to set its own fishery rules.

Last month, the reserve adopted a plan that gave every man, woman and child the right to fish four lobster traps in the late summer and fall.

The 350 non-native fishermen who harvest lobster from this bay are only allowed to fish in the spring. They are outraged that native people are scooping lobster from the bay now, when they are concentrated inshore.

Dhaliwal says the native lobster fishing threatens lobster stocks, though biologists disagree on that point. He has been struggling to stop the fishing for weeks.

The issue has become a rallying point for native people across the country, who consider this fight key to the issue of self-government.

Yesterday, a vendor selling sweaters and jewelry on the reserve began hawking patches commemorating the Oka crisis. A Quebec policeman died in the 1990 Oka armed standoff by Mohawks against a golf course expansion.

``It really bothered me, to see someone commercializing something like that, that was that sad,'' said Tina Nicholas, a warrior who has come here from Tobique.

``But who knows, it could be that some day you will see patches that say, `Burnt Church.'