Peace will come in our listening

SHUNPIKING, September, 2000 / Volume 5, Number 36

As members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) stationed on the East Coast, we've realized that listening is a vital part of working for peace. Sitting here at the shore, we can hear the motors of the boats out on Miramichi Bay. The Mi'kmaq fishers from Esgenoopetitj First Nation (EFN) are out exercising their treaty right to fish despite the Canadian Government's aggressive attempts to stop them. The sound of their motors is the sound of First Nations people standing up for their rights to use and manage their natural resources.

Standing here on the shore of these troubled waters, we also hear the motors of the DFO vessels. These are the sounds of federal officials trying to control the resources of First Nations' peoples. DFO Minister Dhaliwal has declared that he has the right to regulate all fisheries in Canada. What he has not been able to see is that the native people of EFN have both an inherent right and a treaty right to fish under the auspices of their own fishing management plan. The treaty signed with the Mi'kmaq people in 1752 affirmed these rights, and Canada has since been bound to honour this treaty and to respectfully dialogue with the Mi'kmaq on a nation to-nation basis.

But the behaviour of the DFO has been far from respectful. We've been ashamed at what DFO and DFO personnel have been doing in our name: Two weeks ago DFO officers pointed guns at native fishers and seized almost 750 native lobster traps. DFO officers lied to Nina when she went to check on the well-being of arrested fishers. A few days later Matthew was on a native boat that was rammed three times by a DFO vessel. DFO officers have mocked native fishers and have choked two native men. A few days ago, DFO vessels were accompanied by an RCMP riot squad carrying assault rifles. After preliminary talks between the DFO and the EFN community, the DFO acted in bad faith by spreading misinformation about the nature of the talks.

We've been hearing another set of sounds -- the spouting stale rhetoric of "we are all Canadians now and everyone needs to follow the same rules," or people accusing the native fishers of greed…

We've witnessed the media not believing observers of violence unless they are white, and blaming the native community for the unrest erupting from years of oppression and systemic violence.

Often it is the eery sound of silence we hear -- the silence of those who would like to ignore the situation or shove it under the rug. Yet, the tensions and violence happening in the Miramichi Bay call us as Canadians to look at facts and issues that make many of us extremely uncomfortable. Are we prepared to try to understand native perspectives and native rights even if it makes us squirm as we realize our own benefits from over 500 years of oppression and racism? Are we prepared to honour promises our ancestors made even if it means a decrease in profit for us?

Situations of challenge and uncomfortableness can be the best teachers … It is all part of an underlying question about how we as Canadians can relate to First Nations peoples, and how we can come to terms with the way our ancestors behaved with respect to First Nations communities.

CPT has maintained a presence in the EFN community since April of this year in order to accompany the Mi'kmaq people as they assert their rights, to document the activity of the DFO, and to try to actively live out the Christian way of nonviolent peacemaking. We have been accused of "not being neutral." In situations of injustice, we believe it is not possible to be neutral. CPT will maintain a presence here on the East Coast through October, but we recognize that the true workers for peace are the people of this First Nations community. They've been here for many thousands of years before we white folks showed up, and they'll be around long after our CPT team packs up.

*Nina is in a Masters program in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Matthew is Intern Associate Pastor at Waterloo-Kitchener United Mennonite Church in Ontario.

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