Whenever a Mi’kmaq lobster trap is seized or a Mi’kmaq boat is capsized by the federal fisheries department, the waves don’t stop at the shores of Miramichi Bay.
One day after former Ontario Premier Bob Rae was appointed to mediate the violent dispute over treaty rights between the Mi’kmaq of Esgenoôpetitj (Burnt Church) and the federal government, fisheries minister Herb Dhaliwal ordered another attack on the Mi’kmaq.
Last Tuesday afternoon, DFO officers in 12 boats rammed their vessels into Mi’kmaq fishers, then pepper-sprayed them, Esgenoôpetitj spokesperson Karen Somerville said.
One Mi’kmaq boat was capsized, leaving four men struggling in the frigid water, 14 people were arrested and held in custody overnight, including Chief Wilbur Dedam. Three Mi’kmaq boats were seized, Somerville added.
It was the second such assault in as many weeks.
Somerville says those arrested were detained because they refused to sign an agreement stipulating they would stop fishing and traveling on Miramichi Bay.
And even Rae said on CBC’s The National that the aggressive tactics of the DFO surprised him.
“The minister is acting in a manner that is totally demeaning and underhanded,” Dedam stated in a strongly worded press release. “The day after he publicly accepted the mediation process, he sends his officers to undermine the process and basically destroy any chance that the mediator could bring both parties to a resolution of this dispute. He never intended for the process to work.”
Regardless, the Mi’kmaq are still optimistic mediation will end the violence that has plagued their community since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Mi’kmaq fisher Donald Marshall Jr. last September.
Traditional Chief Lloyd Augustine says his community’s dispute with the federal government over treaty rights doesn’t affect only the Mi’kmaq of Esgenoôpetitj.
“We’re fighting for everybody’s treaty rights,” Augustine said.
Mohawk writer and professor Taiaiake Alfred agrees.
“[The crisis at Esgenoôpetitj] is one of these frontline struggles that will determine our future relationship with Canada,” Alfred said.
“Either existing treaties and rights will be extinguished or we’re going to fight and preserve them — if they [the federal government] win, it’s just another victory for the idea that indigenous people are Canadians.”
The Mi’kmaq of Esgenoôpetitj need money and donations in kind to continue their fight. Since the confrontations began, more than 30 Mi’kmaq men and women have been charged with a variety of offences under the Criminal Code and the Fisheries Act. The cost of defending one young man who was beaten and pepper-sprayed on Aug. 29 has been estimated at $20,000..
On Sept. 5, the EMFN Donation Committee was struck by the Chief and Council of Esgenoôpetitj to raise money for and accept material donations on behalf of the community.
♦60 per cent of all funds will go into the legal defense fund.
♦20 per cent will be used to pay for the enforcement services of the Esgenoôpetitj and Listuguj Rangers, many of whom are volunteering their time.
♦10 per cent will be used to buy food for the volunteers, the supporters and the rangers.
♦10 per cent will be used to buy miscellaneous supplies like paper products.
Financial donations can be made at any Royal Bank in Canada. Please make cheques payable to:
EMFN Donation Committee The Royal Bank Chatham, NB Transit No. 00484-003 Account No. 1001981
The committee will issue receipts for all donations of $20 or more, provided you send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
EMFN Donation Committee, 620 Bayview Drive, Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, NB E9G 2A8
The Mi’kmaq of Esgenoôpetitj also need:
♦Diving equipment (to retrieve lobster traps destroyed by DFO and non-Native fishers),
♦Personal flotation devices,
♦Radio communications equipment like CB radios and walkie-talkies,
♦Binoculars, Night vision goggles,
♦Office supplies/stationary, especially paper for faxing, photocopying and printing, and
♦Food, preferably non-perishable.
Donations of the above listed items can be dropped off at the town garage in Kahnawake and the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal, 2001 Blvd. St-Laurent. A pick-up truck will be taking the donated goods from Montreal to Esgenoôpetitj on Sept 22.
For more information, please call Jeannie Bartibogue at (506) 776-1211.