Statement of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples Regarding Burnt Church

As followers of our Creator-God who calls us to justice and to love, we, the members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq people of Esgenoopetitj/Burnt Church as they continue their struggle for the recognition of their treaty rights and their dignity as a People.

Over the past few months, we have been deeply distressed by reports in the media and from ecumenical observers stationed in Burnt Church. A recent visit to the community by the Right Reverend Gordon Beardy, bishop of the Diocese of Keewatin, has confirmed what we have heard: that Burnt Church has been, and continues to be, a community under siege.

Bishop Beardy witnessed firsthand children being traumatized by the continual presence of helicopters circling overhead. He heard stories of women who watched in horror as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans rammed native boats, threatening the lives of native fishers, and confiscating their traps. He spoke with young men who were nightly harassed and intimidated by the RCMP, and with community members who lived in mounting fear of violent reprisals from non-native fishers.

In the stories of our Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters, we hear echoes of our own bitter struggles and those of our Peoples over hundreds of years, and we are deeply pained and angered.

We recognize and affirm that the people of Esgenoopetitj have ended their fishing season on their own terms, on their traditional Treaty Day. We commend them for demonstrating incredible courage and restraint in refusing to be drawn into confrontation with the Department of Fisheriesand Oceans or with non-native fishers. Their ancestors have shown similar patience and restraint for hundreds of years.

While the immediate crisis on the waters of Miramichi Bay may have dissipated, we know as indigenous people that the deep tensions and injustices underlying the dispute at Burnt Church are far from over.

As members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples,

  • We condemn the violence, threats of violence, and intimidation tactics used by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Such control tactics disrespect the human rights and endanger the lives of the people of Burnt Church, while undermining the very possibility of establishing an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and resolution of the dispute. In this day and age such antiquated ‘Cowboys and Indians’ approaches, which have the effect of controlling the lives of indigenous peoples, cannot be tolerated.
  • We call on the federal government and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to show patience and restraint commensurate with that shown by the people of Esgenoopetitj/Burnt Church for decades. The government and its agencies must refrain from fast and heavy-handed responses in order to create space for calm and thoughtful dialogue to prevail.
  • We demand that the federal government exercise its responsibility to fully inform Canadians concerning the historical and legal facts related to the dispute at Burnt Church, rather than promoting one-sided versions that demonize indigenous peoples as ‘lawbreakers.’ All parties, and all people living in Canada, require clear, unbiased, and complete information concerning this dispute.
  • In keeping with the recommendations of Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples we call on the federal government to enter without delay into peaceful, nation-to-nation negotiations with the people of Esgenoopetitj/ Burnt Church to ensure an equitable sharing of resources between First Nations and the larger Canadian society. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal government can no longer assume an unrestricted and unilateral right to regulate the fishery. Instead, negotiations must be based upon the recognition of the treaty rights of the people of Esgenoopetitj to establish and manage their own fishery.

We speak in response to the cries of the people of Burnt Church and the call of our Creator, in the hope that justice might prevail and that all of us – both indigenous and
non-indigenous — might one day live together in peace.

Gwen Crane, Diocese of Qu’Appelle
Grace Delaney, Diocese of Moosonee
Verna Firth (Chair), Diocese of the Arctic
Cam Haines, Diocese of Caledonia
The Rt. Rev. Caleb Lawrence, Bishop of the Diocese of Moosonee
The Rev. Mervin Wolfleg, Diocese of Calgary
The Rev. Larry Beardy (Alternate), Diocese of Keewatin

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