Toronto Star
Tuesday, October 31, 2000



The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered.
– Edmund Burke
On Conciliation with America, 1775 

Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal could learn a thing or two from the 18th-century British statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke, who, in his address on the conciliation of America, suggested how the use of force is often of no use at all, particularly when it comes to governing a nation. 

But in Dhaliwal’s view, to subdue, if only for a moment, is simply a matter of necessary politics rather than good government and the potential loss of lives is a risk worth the gamble if you’re betting on winning the next election. This was the case at Burnt Church. 

Dhaliwal freely and often demonstrated that the use of force, and force alone, is an acceptable practice under his ministry, regardless if the resulting violence can only be chalked up as a casualty of a misguided politic. He ignored a proposed mediation process. Instead, he called in the troops and the orders were loud and clear: “Use force on the Indians.” 

Federal enforcement agents (from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the RCMP) hit the waters in full riot gear, pistols and clubs, semi-automatic weapons, and most frightening of all, with attitude. 

Man, woman and child responded. As the sun rose to cast its first light on the waters of Miramichi Bay, people across the nation were shocked at the images captured on camera: Boats capsized; men overboard being beaten with clubs; teenagers jumping from small dories to avoid being crushed by larger enforcement boats; and elders on the shore, crying and praying. 

Yes, the use of force alone is but temporary, but the effects are everlasting. Ironically, with every continued use of force by Dhaliwal, our eyes opened further and our vision became clearer. 

What Dhaliwal failed to realize was that in his barbaric attempt to shatter the resolve of the Mi’kmaq people at Burnt Church, his enforcement actions would only strengthen the will and determination of a people fighting for what is rightfully theirs. 

Not only that, but his aggression against the Mi’kmaq would serve as an awakening to all First Nations people across the country, and, like disturbing a bear from a deep winter sleep, there is a price to pay. 

Dhaliwal, by way of the Canadian taxpayer, was able to somewhat subdue the levels of fishing activity on the waters of the bay, but hardly for a moment at a time. 

Each assault launched against the Burnt Church fishery was met with busloads of supporters from First Nations across the country and from the United States. 

Each attack on Burnt Church ignited an aboriginal protest somewhere in the country – be it blockades of highways or railways, or informational protests – and the hearts of all First Nations people began to beat as one. 

The dispute at Burnt Church has educated our own First Nations people about aboriginal and treaty rights. First Nations people across the country are uniting and sharing experiences and information on ways to implement our inherent rights as indigenous peoples of this land. 

Like a new beginning, the once-damaging tactics of government oppression no longer damage our spirits anymore, but instead fuel the resolve of our people and communities to coordinate, share, and effectively strategize our goals toward self-determination. 

Dhaliwal was somehow led to believe that Indians were weak and through a systematic process of wearing and tearing away our inter-tribal political fabrics, that eventually all First Nations communities would sign his interim fishery agreements. 

The minister was wrong. There was no dilly-dallying in Burnt Church. 

And the minister is doubly wrong to use force against aboriginal citizens of this country, especially as they implement their inherent right to earn a moderate livelihood. 

The clarification of the original Marshall decision states that the minister must justify actions of enforcement and have meaningful consultation with First Nations communities, and take into consideration different techniques of conservation and management. Dhaliwal has ignored this most important part of the clarification. 

Instead, he believes in the use of force to settle political problems. The use of force is not the way. Dhaliwal’s tactics have only served to inspire unity and strength among aboriginal peoples across the nation, and for this, we must thank him. 

It is this same unity and strength that builds nations among people. 

He can be reached at noah_augustine@miramichi.net 

Noah Augustine is a member of New Brunswick’s Mi’kmaq community.