Though the season may officially start on August 20 for Burnt Church residents, some are already on the waters in defiance of the DFO wishes. JJ Bear, communications officer of the Atlantic Congress of Chiefs, says he hopes there will be no confrontations like last year. Bear said, “the DFO has done squat” to alleviate the situation. Burnt Church has repeatedly refused to sign short-term interim agreements with the Canadian Government saying that only if there is a conservation question is the government allowed to get involved and their fishing plan has essentially the same regulation and conservation measures as the DFO. Bear said it seems like a stalemate situation at the moment, but all the Chiefs support what Burnt Church is doing. Some bands even gave Burnt Church lobster traps to replace what was taken by the DFO last year.
Brian Bartibougue, a Burnt Church community spokesperson, said that there have been some talks with the DFO, but Burnt Church negotiators had no mandate to negotiate any deals. The community’s will to control their own fishery has been expressed in three Band Council Resolutions and one referendum, according to Bartibougue. “I don’t feel the Canadian Government is dealing in good faith with us,” he said. “My people have known great hardships because of what we are doing. It’s not just about lobsters. It’s treaty rights and our ability to control our own destiny.”
Bartibougue lamented the fact that the last regional head of Indian Affairs for the area, “a Mr. Montour, who was a Mohawk,” was replaced by James Wheelhouse. Wheel-house was a former DFO employee, a fact that Bartibougue finds chilling given the seriousness of the situation.
Bartibougue said that his community is also totally opposed to the unilateral actions of Indian Affairs and the Governance Act. “We oppose the Minister of Indian Affairs and his gunboat diplomacy when it comes to Natives,” said Bartibougue. He feels Canada is going in the wrong direction in dealing with Natives. “It’s not just Burnt Church but all across Canada,” he said.
Bartibougue said that First Nations Bands who get media attention seem to be targeted by Indian Affairs and put under fiscal management while experiencing other penalties. “Even though we had a great plan to take care of our debt it meant nothing,” he said. “Canada talks about poverty in First Nations communities but in reality they are the ones who put you there.”
Bartibougue said if a band doesn’t sign the deal Ottawa offers then they’ll end up being strapped for cash, or rammed and the list goes on. “They have infinite resources compared to us,” he said.
In spite of the resources arrayed against them Burnt Church will continue in their struggle. “We’re trying to keep the RCMP at bay and we’re expecting that the DFO will ram us again, but we know what we are fighting for is ours by rights
and treaties,” he said.