Natives vow to fight voluntary moratorium on lobster fishing

The Vancouver Sun
Thursday, October 7, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. -- Natives reacted bitterly Wednesday to news that the Atlantic chiefs had agreed to ask their members to consider a voluntary fishing moratorium.

Mi'kmaq in this tense reserve said they were shocked that their band council and chief would give in to pressure from the federal government to implement a 30-day moratorium on the lobster fishery.

''I ain't listening to anybody,'' said Gaylen Paul, a 27-year-old native fisherman. ''They don't want to listen to the people, to hell with them.''

Natives, frustrated and anxious after days of violence over the disputed lobster fishery, huddled around a bonfire on a beach near the reserve to sing traditional songs and await news from the council.

Millie Augustine, a native lawyer on the reserve, said the news of a possible moratorium made people feel sold out by their chiefs.

''If they agree to the moratorium, that's fine but we're not going along with it,'' she said. ''They went there and promised to stand up for our rights. They betrayed us.''

Native leaders from 35 bands throughout Atlantic Canada agreed Wednesday in Halifax to ask fishermen on their reserves to stop landing lobsters for 30 days.

They hope a temporary cessation will allow officials to develop regulations for the fishery and let tempers cool after a series of nasty confrontations between native and non-native fishermen.

Non-natives are upset with a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling last month that gives aboriginals the right to fish, hunt and gather without licences and out of season.

They protested the decision Sunday by destroying hundreds of native lobster pots in the Miramichi Bay where Burnt Church natives had set traps after the Sept. 17 court ruling.

In the days following, two non-native trucks were set on fire on the Burnt Church wharf, a non-native cottage near the reserve was set on fire, a native religious structure on the reserve was burned to the ground and relations between the two sides soured.