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Burnt Church Crisis: Wikis


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The Burnt Church Crisis was a conflict in Canada between the Mi'kmaq people of the Burnt Church First Nation and non-Aboriginal New Brunswick fisheries, from 1999 to 2001. Natives and non-Natives of the area prior to this crisis had a long history of living peacefully together and helping each other. When the British took over control of the area, the Mi'kmaq people helped to hide the many Acadian settlers that remained in the area from the British troops. Further when the Mi'kmaq people faced starvation the settlers provided food for them and also advocated for them to the government. The area is impoverished and heavily reliant on government transfers for survival. Being able to fish for lobster and sell their catch would allow the Native people an opportunity to earn an income and not rely on government support for their livelihood.


Supreme Court ruling

As Indigenous people, Mi'kmaq claim they have the right to catch and sell lobster out of season. The non-Aboriginals claim that if this is allowed lobster stocks (an important source of income) could be depleted.

In September 1999, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling (R. v. Marshall) acknowledged that Treaty of 1752 and the Treaty of 1760-1761 held that a Mi'kmaq man, Donald Marshall, Jr., had the legal right to fish for eels out of season. The Supreme Court emphasized the Indigenous people's right to establish a ‘moderate livelihood’, in modern day standards, through trade and the use of resources to obtain trade items. The Burnt Church First Nation interpreted the judgment as meaning that they could catch lobster out of season and began to put out traps. When the Marshall ruling came down in 1999 and the Native people decided to exercise their right to fish for a 'moderate livelihood' the government was not prepared to deal with rights guaranteed in the Court's decision. The government started a program of buying back licenses from non-Native fishermen in order to given them to Native people.


Angry non-Aboriginals damaged and destroyed thousands of Mi'kmaq lobster traps in the weeks to come. Local Mi'kmaq retaliated and conflicts ensued in the following nights, with both parties suffering injuries and damaged property.

Government Minister Herb Dhaliwal and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans managed to sign fishing agreements with 29 of 34 Atlantic Coast bands but the Burnt Church First Nation was not convinced. The Canadian Government ordered the Mi'kmaq to reduce the total number of lobster traps used, leaving members of the Burnt Church First Nation with a total of 40 traps for the whole community. Some Mi'kmaq resisted this, claiming that they already have conservation methods in place to ensure the lobster stock would not be depleted off the Atlantic coast.

In 2000 and 2001, rising conflict led to a series of standoffs between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and First Nations people, and a number of arrests were made. The federal government offered to pay for a $2 million fishing wharf and five new fishing boats for the Mi'kmaq. The Natives rejected the offer, believing it could be interpreted as a surrender of their legal fishing rights. After the Mi'kmaq refused this offer the Department of Fisheries and Oceans boats became more aggressive with their attempts to prevent the Native fishers from setting traps on the waters of the Miramichi Bay. They resorted to using their boats to run over the Natives' small fishing boats forcing the unarmed Natives into the water[1]. The intervention efforts cost over $15 million dollars for the Federal Government, not including ensuing legal costs.


In April 2002, a Federal report on the crisis suggested that a number of police charges be dropped and that fishermen should be compensated for damaged traps and boats. They also recommended, however, that First Nations fishermen should not be allowed to fish out of season, and should attain fishing licenses like non-aboriginal fishermen.

Agreement in Principle

The crisis concluded when an Agreement in Principle was signed with the Burnt Church community that allowed them the right to fish for subsistence purposes while it denied them the right to catch and sell the lobster[1].

See also


  1. ^ a b (Obomsawin, A, 2002)

External links



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