SEEING WITH ONE'S OWN EYES
The truth about Burnt Church

SHUNPIKING, September, 2000 / Volume 5, Number 36

By ANURADHA RAO*

SEEING IS BELIEVING.

The bitter truth of this phrase hit me like a speedboat this past week. A trainee with the Aboriginal Rights Coalition-Atlantic (ARC-A) Observer Project, I had the opportunity to see with my own eyes what is really happening in Burnt Church (Esgenoôpetitj).

Upon invitation of the Mi'kmaq community, our team arrived in Esgenoôpetitj on the afternoon of Tuesday, 29 August, having just missed the latest raid by DFO, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Band Council members immediately ushered us to a television set to show us uncut video footage of the second of two sinkings of Mi'kmaq boats by federal boats the morning of the 29th. On a direct trajectory, a federal boat hit a Mi'kmaq boat dead on. The three fishers in the latter jumped into the cold Atlantic waters as the federal boat rode straight over the Mi'kmaq boat.

On the tape I saw a second Mi'kmaq boat come towards where their community members fell into the water, and I saw federal officials in riot gear beating the individuals in this boat. At this point, a third Mi'kmaq boat came in whose occupants threw rocks at the federal officials, following which the officials ceased to beat the other Mi'kmaq fishers. I remember the rock-throwing event to have lasted a few seconds.

Interestingly, we were told, the coverage of this event on CBC Television that morning showed the rock-throwing event first and the boat-ramming event second.

The next morning we obtained several of the local newspapers. Of note was a New Brunswick Acadian paper in which the story of the previous morning's raid occupied a two-page spread.

Within this spread were seven photographs, four of which showed Mi'kmaq fishers throwing rocks.

These four photographs were taken from at least two different angles. The spread showed no photographs of the boat sinkings. A fifth photograph showed a Mi'kmaq man holding a bottle.

The caption stated that he was preparing a Molotov cocktail. I was told that this man stated later that he had not interacted with the photographer and the bottle contained paint.

The details of the first sinking were only determined two days later after closer examination of another videotape. In this tape, I saw a federal boat turning from its original trajectory such that it directs itself towards a boat containing two Mi'kmaq fishers. The federal boat rides directly on top of the fisher in the stern of the boat, and then stops. At least one of the two Mi'kmaq fishers ends up in the water. Federal officials in two boats take turns beating him with batons. The official closer to the viewer raises his right arm to strike another blow at which point another man in the federal boat restrains him, moves him away and pins him against the back of the boat, making a scolding gesture with his hand. I have yet to hear or see this incident described fully in the media.

This is just one morning's event. It is miraculous that no Mi'kmaq died. I would not have been able to appreciate this miracle had I seen only media coverage of the incident and had not seen the original tapes.

What are the real stories behind the other events that have coloured this conflict in Esgenoôpetitj and that we have only seen represented in the media? Think of the vested interests that control your media sources. I leave it to you to judge how this could influence what they print or what goes on the air.

I encourage Minister Dhaliwal to go back to the community of Esgenoôpetitj a second time and see with open eyes what I saw with mine.

*Anu Rao lives in Dartmouth. ARC-A believes in non-violence and recognizes the rights of Aboriginal people to natural resources. The organization trains Observers to be present upon invitation in Aboriginal communities to witness and document activities in situations where violence seems likely. We believe that by the presence of ARC-A Observers, working closely with Aboriginal communities, we may reduce the potential for violence. Contact Margaret Tusz-King at (506) 536-0597.



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