SEEING WITH ONE'S OWN EYES
The truth about Burnt Church
SHUNPIKING, September, 2000 / Volume 5, Number 36
By ANURADHA RAO*
SEEING IS BELIEVING.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
this spread were seven photographs, four of which showed Mi'kmaq fishers
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
encourage Minister Dhaliwal to go back to the community of Esgenoôpetitj
a second time and see with open eyes what I saw with mine.
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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