Press release from Aboriginal Rights Coalition - Atlantic (ARC-A) Observers project

Shunpiking Magazine has received the following press release issued by the Aboriginal Rights Coalition - Atlantic (ARC-A) Observers project on 23 August 2000 on the events in Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church) in northeastern New Brunswick. The Observers' team "documents injustice, violence and bad faith on the part of our government representatives involved in the Burnt Church fishery dispute" and indicates the level of disinformation being provided by the monopoly media to obscure and change the facts on the water. "The media has not adequately reported the experiences of the First Nations people, instead giving credence and airtime to Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) perceptions alone."

Press Release 23 August 2000

The Aboriginal Rights Coalition - Atlantic (ARC-A) Observers project has had Observers present in the First Nations community of Burnt Church/Esgenoopetitj (EFN). This is an account of our observations regarding the events of the last few days: Both DFO and EFN have complaints about each other, leading to the breakdown of talks aimed at resolving the fisheries dispute.

At the preliminary meeting of the two sides on Friday, both had agreed to a joint count committee to conduct counts of the traps in the water. On Saturday, a meeting was held at the Wharf Inn, between DFO negotiator James MacKenzie, Frank Ring, Bob Allain, Jim Jones and from Esgenoopetitj: Wendell Metallic, Leo Bartibogue and James Ward. The DFO representatives told the Rangers and EFN community to go ahead alone to count the traps.

They counted 877 traps. On Friday night, DFO had done their own count using aircraft. It was DFO, therefore, who did not abide by the agreed-upon joint count monitoring. According to Jim Jones (Regional Director General of DFO) on Monday evening, their count of EFN buoys was 900.

At the meeting on Friday, DFO had called for the community to be limited to 580 traps. This number was not accepted by the EFN representatives. The EFN countered with a statement that they would not exceed 1000 traps, and this is the number which they thought had been agreed to. The EFN representatives said that they would take this issue to a community meeting on Monday.

Also at the Friday meeting, the community members had described the area where they were fishing, and they believed that the DFO understood and accepted that. There was no actual map used by either side. Albert Martin, a retired RCMP officer and member of the EFN Band Council, drew a diagram which defined the area, and DFO agreed with it. All 877 traps were within that area. Later on the weekend, DFO provided a map of the fishing area which was not the same as the one accepted on Friday, drawn by Albert Martin. All 877 traps set by EFN were within the limits drawn by Albert Martin.

When DFO started confiscating traps, there was great anger and disappointment in the community, and people spoke of being set up by DFO.

Monday evening, there were large numbers of RCMP seen around Neguac, leading EFN residents to believe that a raid by DFO would be imminent. RCMP cars were parked at every entrance to the community, leading the community to believe that any sources of support would not get through. In fact, RCMP did not prevent people from coming in, but their presence did generate fear.

Many people stayed up all Monday night. The raid began at 6am Tuesday morning. There were about 20 boats gathered in the bay, including 2 Canadian Coast Guard boats, 2 RCMP Zodiacs and about 16 DFO boats. DFO began to pick up traps. Four Listuguj Ranger boats (trained Native fisheries enforcement officers - NOT WARRIORS - who were invited to be there by the community) and about 10-12 community boats (mostly small, open dories) went into the bay to meet DFO.

Wendell Metallic, the head of the Rangers, was in Chief Wilbur Dedam's boat, along with an ARC-A Observer. Mr. Metallic called for all boats to stay together and stay calm until he and Chief Dedam had a chance to talk with DFO. All Rangers and EFN community members in the boats waited. As the Chief's boat approached a DFO boat, Mr. Metallic called out who he was and said he wanted to talk about what was happening. The DFO officer shouted "Go to shore or you are all under arrest!" Mr. Metallic asked who the supervisor was, and was told there was no supervisor. Again the shout was heard "Go to shore or you are under arrest!" Mr. Metallic said that he had the Chief of Esgenoopetitj with him and that they wanted to talk in order to avoid any violence, and the DFO officer shouted "Go to shore or you are under arrest, for the last time!" This behaviour on the part of DFO toward the leader of this community and the leader of the Rangers was offensive and non-cooperative. It was seen to be belligerent and dismissive.

The Chief's boat went back to the other Ranger and community boats. Mr. Metallic telephoned Jim Jones.

The EFN fishers could see that DFO wouldn't talk, saw that DFO was picking up the traps, and so went closer to see what was happening. In the midst of this frustration and helplessness, the rock-throwing incident occurred.

Mr. Metallic asked Mr. Jones to call off his officers, or at least order them to be less intimidating and belligerent. He informed Mr.Jones and others that everything was being recorded on videotape by Observers. The DFO did, apparently, begin to calm down.

At least 2 of the boats present were RCMP Zodiacs, carrying 5-6 officers on each, also 2-4 divers. The RCMP officers had AR-15 assault rifles, as well as sidearms. They were dressed in flak jackets, with what appeared to be black bullet-proof hats.

In front of the cameras, the DFO appeared to be quite restrained. Meanwhile, out of the sight of cameras, there was another event happening near Fox Island. Two young men, Dominic and Curtis Bonnell, with their father, Chris, a band councillor, had decided to lift their traps before DFO took them. They realized that they were going to have too much weight (they had a small boat), so the father was put off on Fox Island while the sons pulled traps. Suddenly there were 2 DFO boats sandwiching them on each side, splashing water into their small boat. Then, one DFO boat cut in front and drove over the front of their boat. The boat actually hit Dominic and dazed him, knocking him to the bottom of the boat. Curtis unintentionally gunned the motor when this happened and got away, driven by fear. The DFO caught up with them, and 5DFO personnel jumped into the boat.

Three jumped on top of Curtis and 2 DFO were on Dominic, on the bottom of the boat. They choked the young men, and then handcuffed them. One DFO officer finally pulled another officer off Curtis. The young men reported that the DFO officers used obscenities when ordering them to stop. They said that the DFO were definitely using excessive force.

The DFO took Dominic and Curtis and their boat to the Neguac wharf and handed the young men over to the Tracadie RCMP. The young men had no complaints about their treatment in RCMP custody. One of the Rangers picked up the father, Chris Bonnell on Fox Island, and returned him to the community. Curtis and Dominic are facing 5 charges, including illegal fishing and failing to yield to an arresting officer.

This reported rough treatment by DFO arresting officers is consistent with the experiences of another young male EFN fisher during the night-time raid by DFO 8 days previously.

The media has not adequately reported the experiences of the First Nations people, instead giving credence and airtime to Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) perceptions alone.

ARC-A Observers are volunteers trained in non-violent witness, who have been and will be in the EFN community throughout the fishery. Another group of a dozen Observers will be trained within the next week. The ARC-A Observer project is an endeavour of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition - Atlantic (a faith-based coalition of First Nations and non-Aboriginal Canadians) and the Tatamagouche Centre (an adult education centre owned by The United Church of Canada).

For more information on this, or on the ARC-A Observer Project, please contact:

Margaret Tusz-King, Steering Committee
ARC-A Observer Project

August 23, 2000
Dear Friends

What follows is a press release we have sent out, with the approval of the Esgenoopetitj First Nation. It documents injustice, violence and bad faith on the part of our government representatives involved in the Burnt Church fishery dispute. With legal opinion siding with the First Nations in this dispute (e.g. both law professors interviewed on CBC TV The Magazine, Tuesday August 22, 2000), we challenge the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to change its strategy in this dangerous situation.. Please direct your concerns to your MP and local newspapers as soon as possible.

As well, although this project is being staffed by volunteers, it is also exacting a monetary cost -- cell phones, video camera and tapes (required for the safety and documentation work of the Observers) all need subsidy.

You may have seen some of our video used by recent CBC TV reports. To date, we have about $800 in outstanding bills to be paid for these.

This weekend, we will be training another dozen volunteers as Observers, so that we can continue to provide a useful, peaceful presence in the Esgenoopetitj First Nation community. Each trainee requires about $200 in subsidy. Any donations you can make to this project would be very welcome.

Donations can be directed to Betty Peterson, Apt.416, 6969 Bayers Rd., Halifax NS B3L 4P3.

In peace,

Eric Tusz-King
Margaret Tusz-King
Judy Loo
Trudy Watts
ARC-A Observer Project Steering Committee

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