Bishop Gordon Beardy of Keewatin visited Burnt Church, N.B., in late September to lend his support to Mi’kmaq who were engaged in a bitter dispute with the federal government and non-Native fishers over lobsters.
“We as a diocese have a major commitment to healing and reconciliation,” said Bishop Beardy’s executive archdeacon, David Ashdown, in explaining why the bishop went. Bishop Beardy was not available for comment.
“I think part of that includes the recognition and support of treaty rights,” Archdeacon Ashdown said. “You’re not going to have healing unless you have justice.
“Because we have that kind of commitment, he (Bishop Beardy) thought this was an important issue, almost symbolic of the struggle going on right across the country. We don’t have a lot of lobsters here in northwestern Ontario and northeastern Manitoba but we do have fishing and game questions. We have trees and lumber issues, which are affected by this so we have a pretty keen interest in what’s going on there.”
The Mi’kmaq have asserted their treaty rights to catch lobster out of season. Non-Native fishers in the area demanded that many of the lobster traps be removed and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were forcibly doing so. The Natives ended their season voluntarily in early October.
After the bishop spoke with people in Burnt Church by tele-phone, “he decided to go and minister by his presence there,” Archdeacon Ashdown said.
“His objective was to meet with people, hear their story, pray with them and see if there was any way in which he could assist in the process of finding an equitable and just solution to the problem.”
The people of Burnt Church warmly welcomed the bishop, Archdeacon Ashdown said. He was part of the prayer vigil held on the wharf and was there when shots were fired.
After hearing from Bishop Beardy, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples condemned “the violence, threats of violence, and intimidation tactics used by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans” in the dispute. It called on the federal government to move immediately to conduct nation-to-nation negotiations to “ensure an equitable sharing of resources between First Nations and the larger Canadian society.”