Earlier fears of the threat of violence over the lobster fishing dispute in Burnt church have become a reality. The situation has escalated in dramatic fashion as shots were fired during a night raid by non-Native fishermen. The raid, which was staged on Sunday, September 16th, involved some 55 non-Native boats from Baie-Ste-Anne and Neguac, communities near Burnt Church. As many as 200 white fishermen took part in the raid on Miramichi bay where they cut and damaged Native lobster traps. They were met by tribal members on 10 Native boats.
The non-Native fishermen were up in arms about the closure of a herring fishery as well as the fact that Natives have the right to trap lobster in the fall. Reports indicate that the scene was chaotic with objects being thrown and shots being fired. RCMP and federal fisheries officers were on hand, but did little to interfere in the melee. An RCMP helicopter videotaped the incident from above and those tapes will be reviewed to see what if any charges will be laid.
The confrontation led to high-speed boat chases that went on for about 30 minutes. Native fishermen expressed frustration over the inaction of RCMP officers at the scene. “Non-Natives are over there cutting our traps and the RCMP aren’t doing anything. It’s just total chaos here,” said Leo Bartibogue, who added that members of the Burnt Church reserve had been shot at by non-Native fishermen.
“There was a lot of gunfire,” according to Mi’kmaq warrior James Ward.
He told of boarding a boat with the Chief and others after hearing that shots had been fired. “As soon as we got out … we were fired upon more than five times. It just narrowly missed one of our guys.” RCMP Inspector Kevin Vickers verified that shots had been fired from the water, but added that shots had also come from the direction of the reserve.
The non-Native fishermen, some of whom were visibly intoxicated, were seen charging the smaller Native vessels at high speed with their boats, cutting lines, and throwing buoys and beer bottles at the Natives. This marked the third and largest such incident in the past month. Roughly 20 non-Native boats charged into the area on August 26 with no major damage reported, a similar action was taken on September 2 involving about a dozen boats.
Remarkably, there was no report of serious injury in this last attack, but one non-Native boat ran aground, caught fire, and burned down to the waterline.
Burnt Church Chief Wilbur Dedam reported that the Native fishermen had lost several hundred traps during the skirmish, but didn’t have an exact figure.
“The children are worried about a war because of what happened in New York and Washington last week,” said Dedam, “and now they’re worried as well about war here because of what
happened on Sunday. It’s all because of greed and the inability of some to share the resource.