Band says stand creates great pain
Friday, December 8, 2000
FREDERICTON. Officials at New Brunswick’s troubled Burnt Church reserve say the Mi’kmaq community is paying a harsh price for its defiant stand against the federal government and its fishing laws.
Members of the Burnt Church band are holding meetings this week with representatives of the Assembly of First Nations to discuss the seasons of violence that have marked the lobster fishing dispute on Miramichi Bay.
Band councillors said Thursday that in addition to lingering court cases and physical and emotional scars from ugly confrontations with federal fisheries officers, the people are paying for their intransigence through poverty and housing problems.
Band official Brian Bartibogue said he wants the news media to come to Burnt Church to take a look at the run-down houses, the overcrowding, the hunger and the poverty the small reserve in northeastern New Brunswick will suffer this winter.
Bartibogue said Canadians won’t understand what Burnt Church is fighting for until they see what happens when people have no means of earning a living and no hope.
“It’s not just about fishing, it’s about providing for our communities in a way that brings us up to the standards of the rest of Canada,” Bartibogue said.
“We deserve a better life than what we have today and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Bartibogue said the reserve has appealed to Ottawa for funds to help provide proper housing for families struggling to survive on welfare payments of roughly $75 a week, but he said the band has been told there’s no money available.
“We are being economically starved out because of our stand against the federal government,” he said.
He said the smouldering bitterness over native lobster fishing rights likely will ignite another season of conflict and confrontation unless the federal government and the reserve can find a way of bridging their differences.
Bob Rae, the former premier of Ontario who was appointed mediator last summer, is awaiting word on whether his efforts will be needed in the new year. Bartibogue said the reserve doesn’t trust Rae.
The lobster fishery opens in northeastern New Brunswick in the spring.