New Brunswick: Defending Native People
and Treaty Rights

Revolutionary Worker #1026, October 17, 1999 file: canada.1026

As we go to press, we have received reports of attacks on Native people near the town of Burnt Church in New Brunswick, Canada.

On September 17, the Canadian Supreme Court upheld a 1760 treaty that guaranteed the right of the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy peoples to fish year-round without the legal restrictions that generally apply to fishing. The Mi'kmaq immediately began exercising their treaty rights--by fishing and setting out lobster traps.

On October 2, a vigilante mob of white people attacked the Mi'kmaqs. On the first night of attacks, Native people were beaten, many lobster traps were destroyed and a Native altar was burned. Three Native men were seriously injured and hospitalized, one in serious condition. Three factories suspected of processing lobster caught by Natives were vandalized. Confrontations continued on the following nights.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other authorities watched the rampage--both from a helicopter and from the ground--and did nothing. No one was arrested for these attacks on the Native people.

Meanwhile, government officials have used the situation to attack Native fishing rights. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said the government may ask the Supreme Court to stay its ruling. The federal fisheries minister told the press Native people had to agree to "conservation regulations" or he would shut down their fishing.

The Native people of this area have defended themselves. According to press reports, the Warrior Society of the Mi'kmaqs set up patrols on a wharf where Native people and their boats had been targeted. The Toronto Star reported: "Men and women wearing combat fatigues erected three teepees on the wharf and the shore yesterday and delivered large logs for bonfires that were to burn through the night. Many of the men shielded their faces with bandannas or netting. An RCMP helicopter buzzed the teepees several times during the day."

Two hundred years ago, as the lands of Native people were taken from them by Europeans entering Canada, the Native people were solemnly promised that their descendants could fish forever in the waters of their traditional lands. These treaties were broken--the Native people were driven from their lands, killed, and many of the survivors live in enforced poverty. Now, when a court has finally upheld the long denied rights--both prominent officials and a racist anti-Native movement try to claim that it is the Native people who have been "given" an unfair access to the fish and waters. These arguments are an outrageous attempt to deny simple justice.

On October 6, Canadian Minister of Fisheries Herb Dhaliwal met with the chiefs of government-backed "band councils." The RW received a statement from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake which said: "[Dhaliwal] tried to persuade the Indians to give in to mob rule by asking them to pull their traps for 30 days to give the non-natives a chance to cool down. The chiefs agreed to have a self-imposed 30-day moratorium. `The chiefs agreed but we the people did not,' said many of the people. So today they are back on the water fishing while another mob forms to attack them."

The call has gone out for Native and non-Native supporters to come to Burnt Church and Yarmouth, New Brunswick to stand with the Native fishermen against these attacks.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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